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LEO w; SHIELDS, a; b. 




The History and Meaning 

of the Term 

Social Justice 

A Dissertation 
Submitted to the Committee on Graduate Study 

of the University of Notre Dame 

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for 

the Degree of 

Doctor of Philosophy 




3 3-^^ *^*^ 

To M); Parents 



Preface 3 

I. Introduction 5 

II. The Nature of Justice 8 

A. The Kinds of Justice -. 8 

B. Legal Justice and Its Relation to the Other Virtues.... 15 

III. The Meaning of the Term Social Justice 26 

A. Early History .-. 26 

B. The Leonine Tradition .- 29 

C. Outside the Leonine Tradition 53 

IV. Conclusion 62 

A. Social Justice: the Value of the Term 62 

B. Social Justice: the Value of the Idea 65 

C. Social Justice: the Value of the Thing 71 

Bibliography 73 


The purpose of this study is not to enumerate all the things 
that social justice has ever meant, but to see whether among the 
multitude of usages there is some meaning of the term sufficiently 
common to justify the use of it in a precise sense. I wish to express 
my gratitude to Father F. J. Boland for suggesting the subject 
and for his encouragement; to Dr. F. A. Hermens for his patient 
direction and assistance ; and to the other members of the faculty 
of the University of Notre Dame, among whom Dr. Waldemar 
Gurian, Dr. Yves Simon and Mr. Matthew A. Fitzsimons have been 
especially generous. Sister Mary Ignatius, S. N. D., and Mr. F. P. 
Kenkel, editor of Social Justice Review, furnished helpful advice 
by correspondence. I am also specially and permanently indebted 
to Dr. M. J. Adler of the University of Chicago, to whom I owe my 
interest in Thomism and especially in its application to the critical 
problems of the times. 

May, 1941. 



Social justice is a new term. It first appeared in the middle of 
the nineteenth century, achieved its widest intellectual popularity 
in the post-war decade, and has already begun to disappear from 
all but Catholic usage. Catholic writers, encouraged by the ap- 
proval given the term by the recent Popes who have used it with 
an apparently precise reference in their encyclicals, still make use 
of it in popular writings, and some of them, believing that the new 
term signifies a new concept which genuinely advances political 
thought, have woven it very carefully into their social doctrines. 

Whether social justice is a new concept or a new name for an 
old one, it was at least new to contemporary thought at the time 
of its appearance. The complete revolution in political ideology 
of which the French Revolution was the most evident sign con- 
sisted chiefly in individualizing people's social outlook. The char- 
acteristic feature of the political thought of the period was its 
emphasis either on individual rights or on individual freedom of 
action against the arbitrary state. The common good disappeared 
and its place was taken by such constructions as the utilitarian 
"greatest good of the greatest number". Belief in responsibility to 
the social group nearly disappeared. The harmful effects of this 
anarchism appeared first in the economic sphere, where individual 
freedom had not required throwing off any old yoke but only not 
submitting to any new ones. It was not long until desperate con- 
ditions of poverty and inequality had brought forth criticism in 
the name of justice. But the only kind of justice known in the 
new economic system was payment of debts as required by law. 
Harmful social effects of a producer's wage policy were thought 
to be unfortunate but inevitable, surely none of his business. The 
idea of justice was destined under these conditions for a very 
considerable elaboration. From Marx, who rejected the sanction 
of the principles of justice for his strenuous ethical condemnation 
of the capitalist order, to Leo XIII who based his whole social 
doctrine on the certain teachings of the natural law and of Christian 
revelation, all the important political writers of the period struck 
at the real injustices of their system. 

While some thinkers were reducing the entire problem to one 
of hard-heartedness or of injustice in exchange, others sought 
in the duties of the individual to his society a source of the obliga- 
tion of the capitalist toward the impoverished proletariat. It was 


out of the latter trend that the current concept of social justice 

Who it was that first combined the words social and justice 
and how they were first used is not known. Social justice probably 
did not appear as a term with any special meaning until about 
1850. After the appearance of Leo XIIFs encyclical Rerum 
Novarum it came into quite common use among Catholic writers. 
By the turn of the century moral theologians had given it recogni- 
tion and most of them were agreed that it named the long-ignored 
social virtue, legal justice. At the same time writers outside Leo's 
intellectual tradition were beginning to use it, often apparently 
without knowledge of the Catholic literature. It was popularized 
by Catholics in France, Germany and the United States, and be- 
tween 1910 and 1930 hundreds of books and pamphlets talked 
about it in popular and vague terms. The Protestants and the 
Jews took it up as a slogan for social reform, scholarly books were 
written about the progress of social justice, and the term found 
its way into such documents of state as the Versailles Treaty. 
The events of the last decade have caused its popularity to wane ; 
men of science have squeamishly abandoned it to the demagogues, 
while its appropriation by political factions has restricted its ap- 
plicability as a mass symbol. Nevertheless it is still an important 
concept in Catholic social thought. The encyclicals of Pius XI 
used it repeatedly in a more and more precise sense, clerical and 
lay Catholic leaders in the social movement have publicized social 
justice at great length ; in 1937 the term appeared in its precise 
meaning in the new Irish Constitution.^ 

Naturally this term, like all terms in the moral sciences, has 
taken on a variety of meanings, often vague and ill-defined. But 
there is a common core of notions about which all the meanings 
cluster, which unifies them and makes it possible to regard social 
justice as a single term, not only in the literature of modern 
Thomism but in the whole political literature of our period. It is 
used to mean simply a certain equality in society; the equality of 
justice, by which everyone in society gets his due from everyone 
else. This basic notion has been further determined and often 
distorted by concrete applications. Some have seen in social 
justice equality of opportunity, some equality of security, some 
equality before the law, some equal participation in the good life 
of the community. Some have understood it to mean the complete 

1. Article 43. 

eq'aality of wealth that communism is vulgarly supposed to offer, 
some the kind of equality described in the socialist formula, 
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his 
needs." The precise meaning for Thomism will be developed 
later. But the fundamental notion is of an order of complete justice 
in society, and this fundamental notion, far from being new, is 
among the oldest in political science. Plato first systematically 
elaborated it in his Republic: justice as the principle of order and 
unity in society, the principle of that justice being "one man, one 
task" — the orderly performance of each function by the man 
naturally best fitted for that function ; this is rendering to each 
his due by rendering to the community its due. 

The purpose of this study is to discover the origin and history 
of the term, in order to see whether it has had a consistent mean- 
ing and what its meanings have been. The first part will present 
an anlysis of the real scientific problems involved in the notion of 
social justice, on the basis of which the second part will set forth 
historically and criticize the meanings which the term has taken. 
The conclusion will be an estimate of the value of social justice — 
the term, the idea, and the thing. 

Because Catholic writers have given most attention to social 
justice, and have used the term most formally and precisely, their 
doctrines and interpretations must be emphasized. And because 
of the intellectual dependence of Catholic writers on the pro- 
nouncements of the visible Head of the Church, a very special 
consideration must be given to the use of the term in papal docu- 
ments. It has seemed to many that the exposition of the doctrines 
of social justice is the essence of modern Catholic teaching on the 
social problem. It is needless to urge with other reasons the im- 
portance of the question at hand. 


The most important notion involved in the concept of social 
justice is of course justice. Social justice, unless its sinificance is 
only metaphorical, must be a kind of justice, therefore we must 
know what justice is. 

Fortunately Aristotle, on account of the Greek preoccupation 
with the political virtues, gave quite thorough treatment to the 
virtue of justice, and consequently we have much explicit discussion 
of it in the works of St. Thomas. The analysis which follows is 
derived from, and it is hoped conforms to, the Thomistic doctrine 
of Justice.^ 


The virtue of justice is that virtue which brings about the 
just state of things called "objective justice". The object of any 
virtue is the end toward which it is directed. The object of the 
virtue of justice, and the end of the just act, is this just state 
of things, which we may call "the just" (jus), or right.^ "The 
just" is a certain natural equality. The nature of anything may 
be considered in two ways : as the organizing principle of the thing 
according to which it is what it is and acts as it does ; or as the end 
toward which it is intrinsically directed. Nature in the first aspect, 
as a formal principle, is what makes a thing act in a certain way ; 
nature in the second aspect, as a final principle, is what it tends 
toward in its action. It is nature in this last sense, what is tended 
toward, that we call good; the good is the end of a natural tendency. 
When this tendency is toward some agreement or union between 
two things, that agreement or union is called just.^ For example 
the procreative union of the sexes is just in the most fundamental 
sense ; male and female are meant for each other, there is a natural 
tendency to the union or adequation of one with the other, and 
this natural adequation we call just. 

There are different kinds of "just" (a) in accordance with the 
different ways in which the adequation is natural and (b) in ac- 
cordance with the different modes of adequation. As for the 
different ways in which an adequation or agreement can be natural, 

1. Unless otherwise noted, footnote references in this chapter are to the 
works of St. Thomas and in particular to the Summa Theologica. 

2. 2-2, 57, Ic. 

3. 2-2, 57, 3c. 

one example has already been given. The union of the sexes is 
natural in the most unequivocal way ; it is demanded by the very 
nature of the things equated. The adequation that is natural in 
this direct way is called *'the natural just" (jus naturale)."* An 
adequation can be required also, not by the very nature of the 
things equated, but by something consequent to their natures. 
For instance there is nothing in the nature of a piece of land which 
requires that a particular man should own it, but in consequence 
of natural attributes of both — the powers of the soil, the talents 
of the man, the location of the land — it is useful for him to be its 
owner; and what is useful is natural, because a thing tends toward 
what is useful as a means to its end. An adequation required in 
this way is called jus gentium.^ Finally an adequation can be re- 
quired by something which is neither the nature of the things 
equated, nor consequent to their nature, but accidental to it. For 
instance it is natural to a criminal that he should be punished, but 
whether by a prison sentence of five or ten years is a matter that 
has no natural connection with his crime. Nevertheless the good 
of society requires that a particular sentence be fixed, and this 
determination is a matter of convention, governed only by pru- 
dence. This kind of adequation, for instance of a particular 
sentence to a particular crime, is called jus positivum.^ It is natural 
indirectly, by being agreed upon for the sake of the common good, 
to which it is a mere means. As the common good is natural, 
any suitable means to it is natural also. 

Now since the common good of society is the ultimate natural 
end of human life, it is the ultimate end of any act of justice; not 
only of acts directed toward jus positivum, but of those directed 
toward jus gentium and jus naturale. Generation and the posses- 
sion of private property, for example, both have an order to the 
common good; unless that order is preserved those adequations 
will cease to be just, because they will cease to be natural. This is 
why it is true to say that the principle of the just is law;''' for law 
is a reasonable ordinance toward the common good.^ Any adequa- 
tion ordained by law, be it the eternal law, the natural law, or 
human law, is just, and it is just by virtue of that ordination. 

So much for the division of the just in accordance with its 
naturalness. We have said that the just is the object of justice. 


2-2, 57, 2c.; 3c. 


2-2, 57, 3c. 


2-2, 57, 2c., ad 2; cf. 3€. 


2-2, 57, 1 ad 2. 


1-2, 90, 4c. 


and a virtue is differentiated by its formal object. But this first 
division of the object of justice does not differentiate justice, be- 
cause it does not constitute a formal difference in the object. 
A just act has the same formality, bears the same relation to reason, 
whatever the origin of the right (jus) which it regards. For instance 
an employer is equally obliged to pay a just minimum wage whether 
it is determined by agreement or by jus gentium. The difference 
in the causes of the jus are material with respect to the virtue. 

The second distinction of jus has to do with the various kinds 
of adequation. Adequation implies a diversity of things equalized, 
an otherness. Accordingly two kinds of difference are possible : 
(a) division according to the mode of otherness ; (b) division ac- 
cording to the mode of equality. 

In order to make clear what kind of otherness is required for 
justice, let us see why it is that there can be no justice toward the 
subrational creation. Subrational things are the objects of human 
actions : for instance when we pick up a stone or swat a fly. Can 
they be the objects of justice? 

An adequation of anything is just, we have said, if it is re- 
quired by the natural end of that thing. A just action toward a 
man would have to be required by the end of that man ; toward an 
animal, by the end of that animal. Now the end of all things is 
the universal good, and man alone of all physical things is capable 
of attaining that good directly, since it can only be apprehended by 
an intellectual power. Thus the proper end of man, the virtuous 
human life of contemplation, is his ultimate end in the natural 
order; by natural contemplation of God he attains the universal 
good. But all lower things are incapable of attaining that good by 
the attainment of their proper ends; they can participate in it only 
as instruments, as means to the good human life. This is why the 
ultimate natural end of the subrational creation is the human 
common good.^ 

Consequently the end of an animal for instance is the end of 
society, either directly or through its members. If I kill a cow 
injustice is done not to the cow but to her owner; if I kill a deer 
out of season it is society which suffers an injustice. If I kill my 
own chicken for dinner no injustice is done at all, because harm 
to the chicken is required by its end, my own comfort. Subrational 
creatures cannot be the object of justice; they can only be the 
matter of the justice. 

Thus it is to be noted that there are three things involved in 

9. 1, 96, 2c. Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 81. 


a just action : the subject, the object, and the matter. The object 
is a natural adequation of some person, because nothing less than 
a person has properly an ultimate end. The subject is the person 
who brings that adequation about. The matter is the operation by 
which the adjustment is made and the things used for the 
adjustment. ^"^ 

It can therefore be said that the otherness required for justice 
is an otherness of end. A subrational creature cannot be other in 
this sense ; it is either of another or of the subject of justice. 

As for the division of justice according to the two principles 
named above, otherness and equality, it can most easily be made 
by beginning with the kind of justice in which the two principles 
are formally most perfectly realized. This is commutative justice, 
which is between individual private men and for which the mean 
is a numerical equality. ^^ For private individuals, members of the 
state, are simply speaking not parts of one another in any sense. 
Their ends are separate. They are alike parts of the social whole, 
but with reference to each other they are simply other. And the 
equal which is rendered in this mode of justice is the simplest and 
most perfect kind of equal, numerically equal with what it is 
equated to. 

Since men live in a society which their nature demands, there 
is another term of justice than other individuals, namely the social 
whole. And this whole, socially organized, is capable of acting on 
its parts, individual men. The justice which is between the members 
of society as parts of that society and the society as a whole 
evidently differs in respect of both the principles of justice from 
commutative justice. First of all, part and whole are not simply 
other. The part is of the whole, the whole is composed of its parts. 
The action of the whole toward its parts is of a directive and con- 
trolling kind, because the whole is the cause of their unity and 
the end of their activity. Thus just as in a natural organism the soul 
behaves toward the parts of the body in a quasi-paternal way, by 
distributing to each part what is proper and useful in order to 
enable it to perform its functions or to reward it for proper func- 
tioning, and by commanding and directing its operations; so the 
social whole, in giving its members what is due them as parts, is 
regulated by distributive justice, which apportions common goods 
and duties among the citizens in accordance with their deserving- 

10. 2-2, 58, 8c. 

11. 2-2, 61, 2c. 


ness in terms of ability or accomplishment in behalf of the common 

Clearly, too, this mode of justice falls short of the perfect 
notion of equality. For numerical equality is impossible when the 
deservingness and the repayment cannot be reduced to a common 
measure. Now the state owes to each citizen a certain share of its 
well-being — not strictly but metaphorically, since this is a kind of 
debt to itself. But what it distributes cannot be that well-being, 
which the citizen already enjoys in his measure insofar as he is a 
member of the state ; it is a common possession of benefits and 
duties which is distributed as a kind of reward. The only kind of 
equality that can be attained is one of proportion, "geometrical 
proportionality" in Aristotle's terminology :^^ each citizen receives 
in proportion to his deserts, though he cannot receive the very 
amount of his deserts. 

Of another kind is the action of the parts toward the whole. 
The otherness of the whole as regarded by the part is in its being 
an end, not wholly extrinsic but higher than the part. From this 
unique mode of otherness of the whole — still farther remote from 
simple otherness, because the part is completely ordered to the 
whole in its entirety, so that the highest good of the part and the 
whole in the natural order are identical — follows another mode of 
justice, that which regulates the behavior of the member of society 
toward the social whole. ^^ What is due according to this mode of 
justice is everything, every operation whatsoever in its perfection : 
because the whole is the end of the part, the part is completely 
ordered to the whole. The object of this justice is the common 
good, which all virtuous actions help and all vicious actions harm. 
This kind of justice is called legal justice in the Aristotelian tradi- 
tion, from its principle, the law, which ordains actions toward the 
common good.^^ The kind of equality that is rendered by legal 
justice is only analogically equality. It is simply a correspondence 
between the good as an end and the good as an achievement, be- 
tween the good act to be done and the good act done. For the 
common good consists of the most complete goodness of the 
citizens. Every good act by a member of society is a real part of 
the common good. Thus the obligation or debt to promote the 
common good is discharged, according to the measure of the act 
done, by every good act. 

12. 2-2, 61. 2c. 

13. Aristotle, Ethics V, 6, 1131b. 

14. 2-2, 58, 5c. 

15. 2-2, 58, Sc. 


Legal justice is in fact very similar formally to the private 
virtue of a good man, by which the parts of his soul are ordered 
with respect to one another and to the whole according to reason. 
Indeed the mode of equality is the same. The virtuous man com- 
mensurates or equalizes his actions with what is required by his 
nature, that is with his nature regarded as an end, just as the legally 
just man equalizes his actions with what is required by the common 
good, that is with society, which is the perfection of human nature, 
regarded as an end. But in the case of the virtuous man there 
is no real otherness at all. For the otherness required for justice 
is an otherness of agent and patient of the work of justice. And 
actions properly inhere in substances, supposita; so that the same 
substance cannot have one part doing and another suffering an 
action, since for instance if the hand strikes the face, it is properly 
the man who strikes with his hand and is struck in his face.^^ 
Consequently it is only by metaphor that we may speak of a justice 
which consists of an equitable arrangement of the parts of the soul ; 
St. Thomas calls this metaphorical justice. ^^ 

One might object that if only between supposita there is the 
otherness necessary for the works of justice, there cannot be a 
justice properly speaking which has for either term the society 
or common good, which is no substance. But the metaphysician 
can answer that while society is not a substance, it is somehow 
better than substances, not simply but in a certain respect; it has a 
higher being than the human substances which are the matter it 
informs, just as any form is better than its matter; consequently 
it somehow possesses virtually all the powers natural to men, 
among them being the power to act and suffer. And this is evident 
too for common sense ; the state can act through its governors and 
suffer through its members. 

These three kinds of justice: general justice, or legal justice, 
and commutative and distributive justice; are the only ones among 
the virtues regulating external operations which satisfy in some 
adequate degree the essential requirements of justice, otherness 
and equality. One other kind barely fails to meet these require- 
ments, domestic justice with its species. This is the mode of justice 
which regulates actions between members of the household com- 
munity. It is justice, because between persons who are separate 
supposita; it is not simply justice, because insofar as what is 

16. 2-2, 58, 2c. 

17. 2-2, 58, 2c. 


naturally due between father and son, husband and wife, is due in 
virtue of these familial relationships, the terms of the just operation 
are not other but part one of the other. The son is part of the 
father, the husband and wife are one flesh. ^^ 

There are other virtues about external operations which fall 
short of strict justice. Religion regulates our relations with God; 
not justice, because here there is a complete defect in equality. 
Man cannot render God His due, but he is obliged to render Him 
as much as he can. Even among men there are many to whom we 
become indebted in such a way that payment according to strict 
justice is impossible because of a lack of equality between what is 
received and what could be paid. For instance, to our parents we 
owe life itself; we cannot repay them equally, since we cannot give 
them life, but we can make ourselves responsible for the means of 
preservation of their lives ; and to this we are bound by the virtue 
of piety. Also, those who perform any virtuous act do us a service 
which cannot be repaid equally, because virtue is an imperishable 
good, communicative and diffusive of itself, and unaccompanied 
by any loss. The only repayment which can be made is to honor 
the virtuous man in an appropriate way, and the virtue of observ- 
ance regulates this honor. These three virtues fall short of the 
requirements of justice in regard to equality ; by none of them 
can the equal be rendered. ^^ 

Furthermore there are virtues that differ from justice in regard 
to otherness in such a profound way that the kind of debt is radi- 
cally altered. For the otherness of strict justice is a substantial 
otherness between subject and object, the object being the term 
of the operation which is the matter of justice. In this case what 
is due is really due to the other person. But many operations 
toward others are required not because of a debt to the other 
person, but by right morality. What is adequated is an achievement 
of the subject with his nature considered finally. Here the only 
substantial otherness is between the subject and the person who 
is the term of the operation ; but subject and object are identified. 
As far as the subject is concerned, the adequation is no different 
than in metaphorical justice. 

St. Thomas calls the first of these two kinds of debt, legal debt, 
and the second, moral debt.-*^ Why this terminology is used it is 
difficult to determine, since the moral debt, that which is due on 
account of "the honesty of virtue", is also due by law insofar as 

18. 2-2, 57, 40; 58, 7 ad 3. 

19. 2-2, 80, o. 

20. 2-2, 80, o. 


every virtuous act is commanded by law. But human law is pri- 
marily concerned with the preservation of strict justice, without 
which especially the state cannot be preserved. Furthermore justice 
is less mediately ordered to the common good than the other 
virtues, because its direct object is the good of another rather 
than the private good of the subject. These reasons give some 
justification for the use of a term which is perhaps not intended 
to be strictly accurate. 

The virtues by which something is rendered to another which 
is due not to him but morally to the subject are divided into two 
classes according as they are necessary to the integrity of virtue 
or merely increase it.^^ 



Before discussing the nature of social justice, it will be well 
to explain more completely the relation between the three species 
of justice properly speaking. Of these three species one has a 
quite unique character on account of its object. Let us recapitulate 
the nature of these three kinds of justice. Commutative justice 
regulates actions between private men : the subject is a private 
person, or a person or representative of a group considered in its 
private character, and the object is another such private person 
or group representative. Distributive justice regulates actions be- 
tween the social whole and the citizens and groups which are its 
parts : as it exists principally, the subject is a person or the repre- 
sentative of a body which "has charge of the multitude", considered 
in his public character, and the object is a private person or the 
representative of a group considered in its private character; as it 
exists participatively, these positions are reversed — the subject is 
a private person properly disposed toward the distribution made by 
the ruler who has the virtue principally. Legal justice regulates 
actions toward the social whole by its parts : its subject is a person 
whether in public or private capacity, and its object is the common 
good. It is found architectonically in the ruler of the society as the 
virtue which is materially or instrumentally proper to him as a 
ruler (in distinction from regnative prudence, which is formally 
his proper virtue-^ — by prudence he selects the means for the at- 

21. See infra, 20, Note 32. 

22. The best exposition of the Thomistic doctrine of legal justice is 
P. Hyacinthus — M. Hering, "De Genuina notione justitiae legalis juxta 

S. Thomam", Angelicum, 14 (1937), 464-487. 

23. 2-2, 50, Ic. 


tainment of the common good which is the object of legal justice ; 
thus prudence is a certain principle directing legal justice), and 
executively or administratively in the subjects.^^ 

But all virtues are capable of serving the common good, for 
under certain circumstances the act of every virtue can be ordered 
to the common good,-^ either immediately, as when a man is brave 
in warfare directly for the sake of the common good, or mediately, 
as when he is brave in games for the sake of giving good example. 
Further, the common good really consists of the virtuous life of 
the members of the state ; thus every v"ice in a citizen injures it 
and every virtue helps it. In fact every moral act is indirectly 
ordinable to the common good, insofar as it strengthens or weakens 
the habit of virtue. Consequently legal justice is a general virtue 
which commands all the other virtues and orders them to the 
common good. General with regard to its effects, it is special with 
regard to its essence, since it has a special object.-^ As a special 
virtue, is it one of those virtually contained in itself as a general 
virtue ; or in other words, does it have, as a special virtue, any 
special acts which are not the acts of the other virtues? The answer 
must be negative. It is all virtues, properly ordered to the virtuous 
life, which comprise the common good; general justice has only 
to command and order them ; its proper acts are the acts of these 
virtues informed by a higher end. The common good is not an 
object which can be directly attained, simply because it consists 
of the virtuous life of the citizens. 

But there are some acts which many have regarded to be acts 
of legal justice directly, and for the sake of clarity it is necessary 
to show to what subalternate virtues the most doubtful of these 
can be reduced. The most confusing cases are the acts of citizens 
which are commanded by distributive justice. Consequently it is 
useful to make a rather detailed comparison of these two virtues. 

Distributive justice is found principally in the distributor and 
as it were instrumentally in the objects of the distribution, the 
individuals to whom the common goods are distributed. In this 
respect it differs from commutative justice. Both parties to an ex- 
change can have the virtue of justice principally, since each must 
give as much as he receives. In an exchange each party equalizes 
the thing he gives with the thing he receives, thus equalizing the 
condition of the other with what is his right, viz: what was his 

24. 2-2, 58, 6c. 

25. 2-2, 58, 5c. 

26. 2-2, 58, 6c. 


condition before the exchange. What justice effects is an equality 
of persons through an equality of things; and in commutative 
justice each person as subject of justice equalizes the other as its 
object, fiut in distributive justice the relation is quite different. 
The person who makes the distribution is not one of the persons 
whose conditions are equalized. The persons who are made equal 
— not quantitatively but in proportion — are the persons who re- 
ceive the distributed goods; the distributor is not affected, except 
accidentally if he happens to be one of those among whom the 
common goods are distributed. Does it follow then that only the 
distributor has the virtue of distributive justice? Not without 
qualification. The distributor has it principally, because it is he who 
is the cause or principle of the just distributon.-^ But a just dis- 
tributor is not enough for a just distribution. A farmer feeding his 
chickens has not made an equal distribution when he sets out for 
each fowl the proper amount of meal ; he has to contrive that the 
food will not be wasted or monopolized by the biggest birds. Now 
when the objects of the distribution are men, they can either help 
or hinder the realization of the distribution by conscious intention. 
They can be instruments of the distributor in effecting his distribu- 
tion, and then they will have the virtue of distributive justice in- 
strumentally or participatively,^^ just as a man who asks the advice 
of someone more prudent than himself and follows it because he 
sees its wisdom has the prudence of the more prudent man by 

The virtue of distributive justice in the receivers of the dis- 
tribution is a habit of being contented with a just distribution, and 
its act is compliance with the requirements of a just distribution.^^ 
Now the matter of distribution can be either goods or burdens, both 
of which fall commonly upon any multitude and have to be dis- 
tributed among its members. For instance in our society the 
apportionment of social security payments and of income taxes 
must be regulated by distributive justice ; the distributor must 
seek, in accordance with the law, to distribute these payments and 
obligations in such a proportion that the proportion of what one 
man has received and his worthiness to receive it — as measured by 
his services or value to the community as a laborer, or by his ability 
to pay taxes — will equal the proportion of what his neighbor has 

27. In Ethicorum Libros, V, 15. 

28. Ibid., V, 15. 

29. 2-2, 61, 1 ad 3. 


received and his worthiness. Distributive justice will require 
the receivers to comply with the law by giving the information 
necessary for sound calculations, to bring litigation if they are 
injured, to be satisfied with a just allotment, to receive whatever 
payments are made and to pay whatever taxes are laid. 

All of these actions of distributive justice can become acts of 
legal justice if they are informed with an intention to do them for 
the sake of the common good. But it is obvious that a citizen can 
take his social security payments or pay his taxes because of a 
virtuous habit of contentment with equitable distribution, without 
any reference to the common good, or even when in fact and in his 
knowledge the distribution is contrary to the common good. We 
may suppose for instance that a municipal government, endowed 
by its state laws with the power to levy taxes for certain purposes, 
levies them in excess of the legal limitations, but distributes the 
burden justly among its citizens. The citizen who, knowing that 
the levy is unlawful and harmful and that legal action by him could 
forestall it without inconvenience to him, nevertheless pays his 
small assessment because it has been justly allotted, acts in ac- 
cordance with distributive justice but sins against legal justice. 

An error not uncommon in the traditional analysis of justice 
supposes that distributive and legal justice deal with the same 
matters, but differ in that distributive justice has to do with pay- 
ments by the ruler toward his subjects in matters of common good, 
legal justice with payments by the subjects toward the ruler. Thus 
they assign the distribution of benefits to distributive justice, the 
payment of taxes to legal justice. This view mistakes the accident 
for the essence. It is not payment that is essential to the notion of 
justice, but the effectuation of an equality, of which payment is 
the usual means. Thus while the equality of distributive justice in 
the case of tax levies is brought about principally by the distributor, 
who as such pays nothing, it is brought about only instrumentally 
by the citizens who pay. Furthermore it is false to suppose that 
a difference in virtues is necessarily connected with a difference in 
the subject of those virtues. The specific difference between two 
virtues cannot be that they are found in different subjects, for 
instance legal justice in citizens and distributive justice in rulers. 
For virtues are specified by their objects. The object of distributive 
justice is an equal distribution of common goods, i.e. an equality 
in the persons to whom the distribution is made, which consists 
of an equality in the proportion of the goods distributed to each 
person with the merit of that person. The subject of this virtue. 


the person who can be directed to this object, may be either the 
distributor or the receiver who is his instrument. Again, the object 
of legal justice is the common good ; its subject, the person who 
can be directed to the common good, can be any member of the 
community, since the actions of anyone are ordinable to the common 
good. And these reasons show also why the distinction between 
the two virtues cannot be a purely quantitative one, which regards 
distributive justice as regulating the actions of one towards many, 
legal the actions of many towards one.^*^ For it is not simply many, 
but an equality of many, which distributive justice aims at, and 
not in all actions, but only in distributions; for instance one mer- 
chant can be bound to many customers by commutative justice. 
And it is not simply the many who are the subjects of legal justice, 
but the members of a community ; not any one who is its object, but 
the common good. 

As a matter of fact, legal and distributive justice, instead of 
being complementary to one another as to the relations between 
subject and object, are actually very similar in that respect. Both 
of them are found primarily in the head of the state and secondarily 
in the subjects. In the case of legal justice, it is had by the sovereign 
architectonically insofar as he commands and uses all the members 
of the society for the good of the whole, and thus he has it princi- 
pally. It is had by the subjects in two ways: primarily, insofar as 
they are directed toward the common good by the sovereign, and 
thus they have it instrumentally ; secondarily, insofar as, them- 
selves apprehending the natural law, they are guided by it to do 
virtuous actions and thus serve the common good, and when so 
acting they are principal agents. But since it is proper to subjects 
to be directed by their ruler, they properly have legal justice 
instrumentally ; since the end of the ruler is to bring about the 
common good in its completeness, it is accidental to the ruling 
function that it does not in fact extend to all acts insofar as they 
are referable to the common good. Both legal and distributive 
justice exist in the same way; the difference between them is in 
their objects, and this difference in objects — one general, attainable 
by every virtue ; the other particular, attainable only by a special 
kind of action — accounts for the great difference in their natures. 

Legal justice then is not directly the virtue that pays taxes. 
It uses the habit of distributive justice for that purpose. How 
about obedience to law? Is it commanded by legal justice directly? 
The purpose of law is to make men virtuous, since this is the com- 

30. 2-2, 61, 1 ad 5. 


mon good toward which law is the directive principle. A law, 
then, which forbids drunkenness intends to inculcate temperance 
and the virtue of sobriety will cause the citizens to obey. But there 
are many acts commanded by law which are good only because so 
commanded, and not for any intrinsic reason.^^ Examples are 
observance of the technical regulations of draft registration, modes 
of executing punishment for crime, etc. What virtue commands 
the exercise of these acts, if not legal justice, which sees their use- 
fulness to the common good? 

The answer becomes clear when we remember that obedience 
is due not only to the laws of the state but to every superior. Every 
person who is a principle of our well-being deserves some reward. 
If he is the essential cause of some perfection in us, it is as a 
superior in some hierarchical order: whether that order is of creator 
to creature, generator to offspring, teacher to pupil, ruler to subject, 
a natural relationship of subordination is established in respect of 
the effectuation of the perfection in question. ^- 

Wherever such a relationship of essential causality exists, 
its nature imposes certain functions on inferior and superior. The 
performance of his functions by the superior consequently creates 
rights which the inferior must respect ; the superior is thus other 
not merely as the term but as the object of justice, since the ade- 
quation of justice is required by his nature as a superior. The 
debt is a legal, not merely a moral one. Let us consider an example 
of such a legal debt. Between a teacher and his pupil there exists 
a relationship which takes its nature from the character of the 
perfection which teaching seeks to impart. The function of the 
teacher is determined by that end. But the student who is taught 
incurs obligations to his superior likewise determined by the nature 

31. 2-2, 104, 2 ad 1. 

32. Every benefactor as such is cause of the beneficiary. (2-2, 106, 3c.) But 
the person who bestows, not a real ontological perfection, but a mere 
extrinsic good or favor; or who bestows a real perfection accidentally 
(for instance a virtuous public figure who gives good example, or one 
whose conversation instructs his friend); gets no right to reward because 
he creates no natural relation of subordination, the subordination that 
results being merely casual. The beneficiary's debt, whether of gratitude 
or of honor, is a moral debt. (2-2, 106, Ic; 3o.; 102, 2 ad 2.) 

St. Thomas classified the virtues under discussion as follows: (1) those 
involving legal debt: religion; piety, to parents and to country; observance 
(respect for excellence). Obedience, which regards the precepts of super- 
iors, is commanded by all of these; but is formally a single virtue, since 
it concerns not the mode of superiority but subjection to commands. 
(2) Those involving moral debt: chiefly, gratitude, vengeance (which 
regards, not the just retribution of another, but removal of the pain of 
mjury from oneself), and truth; secondarily, liberality and affability, the 
latter including benevolence, concord and beneficence. 


of the function ; the most notable of which is docility. An obliga- 
tion to another is such a legal debt. 

Nevertheless, although in this sort of causal relationship be- 
tween persons the kind of otherness, and hence the kind of debt, 
is that which strict justice demands, the adequation falls short of 
real equality. We cannot, for instance, give an equal return to God, 
the cause in its entirety of whatever being we have ; or to our 
parents, the secondary cause of our existence and education ; or 
to our country, the source of the material needs of life. Nor can 
a man repay adequately any training or work which perfects his 
very self. The civil ruler, who makes us virtuous ; the teacher, who 
trains our intellects ; the priest, who saves our souls, all render 
services which cannot be repaid according to equality. Even health, 
a mere bodily good, being a real ontological perfection, is not 
capable of being apraised and equally paid for. In these cases, 
since an obligation has been incurred, virtue requires that it be 
liquidated as far as possible. But it is a matter, not of strict justice, 
but of virtues annexed to justice. 

For since any inferior, in virtue of being inferior, cannot render 
equality to his superior, he must give him as much as he can. And 
the greatest of corporal rewards, such as he can give, as Aristotle 
tells us,3^ is honor : and what is to be honored, of course, is not 
the work which the superior has done in us, but what is better, 
his own excellence by virtue of which he is able to do such a work. 
In addition we are obliged to render whatever services are required 
by this honor.^'* For instance to God is due the complete worship 
of adoration and sacrifice ;^^ the service required is complete sub- 
jection to His will.^^ To our parents we owe reverence as the 
source of our life ; the commensurate service is submission to their 
guidance during youth, and preservation of their safety in any dis- 
tress, both being involved in acknowledgement of dependence for 
existence upon them. 

One kind of service, however, is uniformly required, and that 
is obedience to the superior in the respect in which he is exercising 
his superiority. This is due, as has been said, by the very nature 
of the relationship. If a patient is to be cured, he must follow the 
physician's rules ; if a student is being taught he must prepare the 
assignments. In the case of natural subordinations there is no such 

33. Aristotle, Ethics, VIII, 8; cf. 2-2, 103, 1 ad 2. 

34. 2-2, 101. 2c.: 102, 2c. 

35. 2-2, 84 and 85. 

36. 2-2, 81, 8o.; 82,1c. 


conditional character, and obedience to superiors in the matter of 
virtuous living is required as a debt and under pain of grievous 
sin, since authority in these matters comes from God. 

Obedience therefore is the virtue that immediately obliges the 
observance of civil laws as the precepts of the rulers of the com- 
munity, who by virtue of their office are superior in matters 
pertaining to the common welfare. Legal justice assuredly com- 
mands obedience, not only to civil rulers but also secondarily to any 
lawful superiors, and directs it to the common good. But it does 
not immediately elicit obedience. 

It may be said that although obedience makes the subjects 
abide by the laws, there is no virtue that the ruler can use to make 
them. It is true there is no special virtue whose object is simply 
law-making, any more than there is a special virtue of training 
children in a father. The father in making rules for his children 
has to be guided by the very virtues he is trying to inculcate in 
them. There is no other moral principle for him to use. There are 
other intellectual principles : even the man who himself lacks the 
virtues he wants to develop in his children can be guided in his 
fatherhood by moral science, and by private and domestic pru- 
dence of the imperfect kind which is able to make correct judg- 
ments but not the commands which issue in good action. ^^ But 
this prudence itself directs him only by finding the mean in the 
virtues he ought to have.^^ 

Similarly the legislature in making laws for the state can only 
be guided by the norms of the moral virtues his laws ought to aim 
at developing. Like the bad man who is a tolerably good father, 
a vicious ruler can rule rather well by imperfectly following the 
regnative prudence which selects the means necessary to guide the 
state to its end.*^^ But again these means have reference to the ends 
of the moral virtues."*^ 

Now that these most formidable objections have been answered, 
the solution will be made plainer by an analysis of the way in which 
legal justice acts. Directed as it is to the good life of the society 
in general, the acts it elicits are necessarily the acts of other virtues. 
But it perfects these virtues by directing them to the common 
instead of private good. In a politically good act legal justice and 
the virtue it uses differ only formally; the act is completely the 


2-2, 47, 13c. 


2-2. 47, 7o. 


2-2, 47, lOo.; 


50, lo. 


2-2, 47, 6o. 


act of each virtue. But legal justice in eliciting the act has informed 
the subordinate virtue with a higher principle. 

An example will make this clear. How would virtue be affected 
if there were no legal justice? Let us suppose what is contradic- 
tory, a group of men without any social unity, without any common 
good. Someone has committed a murder and fled with the victim's 
wealth. If the survivors believe that he will not return to annoy 
them it will probably not be cowardly to let him escape to do 
possible damage to others, rather than take pains to seek him out 
and confine him. Furthermore it will be unjust to put him to death 
if he is captured. Now the requirements of fortitude and com- 
mutative justice are quite different granted a common good. It is 
now brave to capture a public enemy, it may be just to hang him. 
The norms of the virtues have been modified in accordance with 
a superior principle. The virtues themselves remain the same, 
their formal ends are the same, but they are used for a higher end. 

The virtues which primarily affect the common good are par- 
ticular justice, '^^ fortitude,*- and the quasi-potential parts of justice 
listed above'*'^ — those virtues which regard another person but fall 
short of strict justice. All the virtues have some relation to the 
common good. But the effect of legal justice on the norms of 
the virtues is greatest in those virtues most directly concerned 
with the common good. In addition to the example just mentioned 
from fortitude and commutative justice, there is the effect, too little 
realized by Catholic writers, of the debt to the common good on 
the determination of just price in exchange. 

The general character of legal justice is now clearly established. 
It is important that it be carefully distinguished as a special virtue 
from another virtue which it seems to resemble. That virtue is 
patriotism, or piety toward one's country. The difference is not 
hard to draw. Legal justice is true justice ; the debt it pays is a real 
debt and the equality of payment is real though analogical. What 
is due the society, which is a whole, is precisely the entire virtuous 
activity of all the parts, hierarchically ordered ; because the good 
of the whole consists in this activity, virtuous human life. The 
virtuous life of a single man requires that the organs of his body 
perform their functions well and in due order. Their good function- 
ing makes possible the natural perfection of human life, which is 
rational activity — in its highest form, contemplation. And they 

41. 2-2, 58, 7o. 

42. 1-2, 96, 3o. 

43. Supra, 20, 18n. 


share in the perfection of the whole man. The body governed by a 
virtuous soul is well off, since it is completely directed toward its 
best good. 

The order in the parts of the social whole is like that of the 
body in being rational. The perfection of the life of the state is, 
again, well-ordered rationally, and eminently contemplation. The 
way in which the benefits of the virtuous life of the whole are 
shared among the parts is even clearer in the social whole. The 
rationally ordered state is first of all at peace within. Its members 
are guided to the development of the best mode of virtuous life of 
which they are capable. All share in the discoveries of scholars 
and in the researches of contemplatives. Now just as metaphorical 
justice in the individual absolutely requires the complete subordina- 
tion of all the lower powers to the rational soul, so legal justice 
requires the complete subordination of every individual activity 
to this common good which is a common virtuous life. There is 
an otherness that admits of real justice, and the debt of justice is 
the entire life of the parts insofar as it has any reference to the 
life of the whole. 

The debt of legal justice is a large one, but it is one that can 
be paid. Quite different is the debt of patriotism. We owe homage 
and service to our country, to the officials who represent it, and to 
the fellow-citizens who are its friends, not as an adequate repay- 
ment, but as the best we can make, for the necessary means of life 
itself of which our country is the source. Patriotism regards the 
country as an altogether extrinsic principle of our being and 
guidance. Legal justice regards it as the whole of which we are 
parts, as an ultimate end somehow intrinsic. We cannot give an 
adequate return for being itself, but for our share in the common 
life we can give our life to the whole. That is what legal justice 

In contemporary conditions it is necessary to contrast the 
Thomist conception of the common good with the totalitarian view 
of the state, from which it could not be any farther removed. 
Nothing could be less congenial to Thomistic politics than the view 
that any human will, whether it be a statistically determined "will 
of the people" or the will of the leaders of a state, can be made an 
absolute principle of conduct. The members of a community are 
ordered to the will of the ruler only to the extent to which he wills 
the real common good, and the real common good being the life of 
virtue of the whole community cannot permissibly do a moral 
injury to its members. The virtuous life of the state is a life guided 


by rational law; whenever a state power exceeds the law of justice, 
turns aside from the common good, legal justice requires of the citi- 
zens not submission but opposition. Furthermore it is a frightful 
error to say that the individual exists for the sake of state power. If 
it is true that the individual is entirely subordinate to the common 
good of the society, it is equally true and more important that society 
exists for the sake of men, and not a few but all men. The individual 
exists for the sake of the genuine common good because his own 
good is a social one ; the common good is his own best develop- 
ment. The key to the Thomistic conception of society is provided 
by the doctrine that neither a private man nor the whole society 
is allowed to punish an innocent person.^"* Why? Because an in- 
nocent man has done no injury to the common good.'*^ Not the 
will of a tyrant, but the perfection of human morality, constitutes 
the common end of nations. 

44. 2-2, 64, 6o.; 108, 4 ad 2. 

45. 2-2, 64, 6c. 





The first appearance of the phrase social justice known to this 
writer was in A. Tapparelli's Saggio Teoretico di dritto naturale, 
published in 1845. ^ He observed that "from the idea of right springs 
spontaneously the idea of social justice. "^ Tapparelli, a Jesuit, was 
among the most prominent Catholic political writers of his time, 
and this work had a considerable influence. The term did not be- 
come popular at once but it appeared occasionally, especially in 
Italian writings. An article in La Civilta Cattolica for 1851 used 
it as follows : 

The remedy thus suggested . . . reduces to that act of social 
justice demanded throughout civilized Europe today by a 
sense of nature as well as by science and experience, the 
abolition of the excess of centralism.^ 

It is of course difficult to decide whether these early appear- 
ances reveal a conscious use of a special term or a mere accidental 
juxtaposition of the two words. But in this passage a somewhat 
special meaning seems to be intended. 

De Mun, the leader for three decades of French social Catholi- 
cism, explaining his idea of the guild in a speech before a conven- 
tion of the Associations Catholiques in 1882, used the term as 
follows : 

The guild as we conceive it is a community formed among 

employers and workingmen of the same profession, held 

together, first of all, by acceptance of the principle of social 

justice, which imposes on the former as well as on the latter 

reciprocal duties : that is the moral bond ; and united by a 

common pos'^ession, by a corporate property arising from 

the voluntary sacrifices of both : that is the material bond.'* 

The sense of the passage suggests that the words were used 

with consideration, to mean the complex of rights and duties 

which form the moral bond of union in a community. A work by 

Georges Goyau, a leading writer in the French movement, indicates 

1. Naples, 1845, 2v. 

2. A. Tapparelli. Saggio teoretico di dritto naturale, -|-347. Cited in A. 
Vermeersch, Quaestiones de justitia, 14n. 

3. "Ordini rappresentativi nel loro soggetto La Nazione," La Civilta Cat- 
tolica, 5 (1851), 507. 


what was probably the current conception of social justice in the 
Catholic social movement. That work was a kind of commentary 
on Rerum Novarum, published in 1893. It spoke of social justic 
as the principle of the "development of a social state where all 
duties are observed and all rights rigidly respected",^ as the rule 
of justice, the maintenance of due order in society. An example of 
a right to be respected was the worker's right to a living. 

Meanwhile the term had come into rather common use outside 
the tradition of the Catholic social movement. In 1894 an English 
collection of essays on religious subjects contained one entitled 
"Economic and Social Justice", deploring the absence in the 
Established Church of the social understanding displayed by Cardi- 
nal Manning.^ A serious volume on Social Justice was published 
in 1900 by the American political scientist W. W. Willoughby. A 
series of university lectures, it gives us a notion of what thoughtful 
men understood by the term. "The problem of social justice," he 

may be grouped under two general heads : the proper dis- 
tribution of economic goods; and the harmonizing of the 
principles of liberty and law, of freedom and coercion.''^ 

justice consists in granting, so far as possible, to each 

individual the opportunity for a realization of his highest 

ethical self . . . this involves . . . the general duty of all, 

in the pursuit of their own ends, to recognize others as 

individuals who are striving for, and have a right to strive 

for, the realization of their own ends.^ 

Justice involves a recognition of individual rights. What social 

justice is principally concerned with is such a relation of those 

rights to legal restraint, and such an interpretation of them in the 

economic sphere, as will "produce the greatest aggregate of justice"^ 

for the members of the community. 

In spite of the individualistic character of this view of justice, 
it is apparent that there is much similarity in what de Mun, Goyau 
and Willoughby understood by social justice. For each of them 
it was the principle of a social organization in which just rights 

4. A. de Mun, Discours, I, 378; quoted in P. T. Moon, The Social Catholic 
Movement in France, 101. 

5. Leon Gregoire (pseud.), Le Pape, les Catholiques et la question sociale, 

6. A. R. Wallace in Vox Clamantium, London, 1894. 

7. W. W. Willoughby, Social Justice, 11. 

8. Ibid., 24. 

9. Ibid., 27. 


would be respected; each emphasized economic justice as primary; 
each spoke of a bond of law and order. 

A phamphlet by F. Dugast of 1900 entitled La Justice sociale 
reveals another interesting- notion of the term which must have had 
considerable currency especially among French Catholics at that 
time. He distinguishes social justice from eternal justice. The 
former is a society's interpretation of justice, obviously apt to be 
out of conformity with true justice. 

Our social justice is only the justice of the political authori- 
ties, and we know what confidence they deserve ... It is 
not to be believed that those who reap the benefits of the 
present iniquities will consent with good grace to cede to 
the people the monopoly of social justice which they enjoy. ^^ 

The author quotes without a reference a contemporary his- 
torian who used the term in the same way, speaking of the power- 
ful devouring the substance of the poor in the name of social 
justice. 11 And the jurist Saleilles wrote in an article published in 

The judge must accept as the basis of his methods of 
interpretation the idea and the conviction that there is an 
individual justice existing objectively, which ought to be 
in accord with the social justice of which the law is for 
him the imperative expression. i- 

This notion, reminiscent of Pascal, refuses to make the abstraction 
of the justice toward which society ought to aim, and regards social 
justice simply as the conventional justice established by the legal 
order of a particular political regime. 

A few years later an Italian writer published a collection of 
articles dealing with social and economic questions under the title, 
Verso la giustizia sociale.i^ He saw in social justice the constant 
goal of mankind : an order in which the prosperous and peaceable 
development of all will be possible. Society being an organism, the 
tendency of social reform must be to replace internal struggle by 
cooperation. But the chaotic, anarchical attempts at reform of 
leaders and masses unguided by any directing principle can never 
produce good results. The idea of social justice is the principle 

10. F. Dugast, La justice sociale, 69. 

11. Ibid., 64. 

12. R. Saleilles, "Ecole historique et droit naturel d'apres quelque ouvrages 
recents", Revue Trimestrielle de Droit Civil (1902), 105; quoted in C. G. 
Haines, The Revival of Natural Law Concepts, 256. 

13. A. Loria, 1904. 


which must guide social reform, and it is necessary to clarify the 
idea and establish it on a scientific basis. ^"^ 


Meanwhile the moral theologians had undertaken to define the 
term social justice which had become so popular in a few years. 
In 1900 the Dominican Abbe Pottier, who had treated so ably of 
the wage question ten years earlier,!^ published a work De Jure 
et Justitia, in which he discussed social justice and concluded that 
it was synonymous with legal justice. ^^ The following year the 
Jesuit Vermeersch published his painstaking Quaestiones de just- 
itia. As a scholium to the section on legal justice he inserted the 
following paragraph : 

Among recent writers there occurs not infrequently the 
phrase social justice. By this term they may mean a special 
virtue, which then cannot be anything but legal justice, or 
they may designate by it a complex of virtues which are 
used in society. For in the way that the name of justice 
denotes a universal rectitude of order to God, so the name 
of justice is least inapplicable to this principle of civil 
rectitude, by which someone through the various virtues 
behaves himself as he ought (therefore justly) toward 
society. ^''^ 

The rectitude of which he speaks is metaphorical justice in 
the individual, ^^ but as we have seen it is legal justice in the state. 
Thus his alternative of interpretation is reduced to one. 

In fact interest in legal justice had so declined since the middle 
ages that ^Imost no writers had an adequate understanding of it. 
The confusions some of which have been mentioned in the preced- 
ing chapter as to the nature of legal justice resulted from over- 
simplification based on superficial analyses of the problem. Most 
of the controversies about the meaning of social justice were to 
spring from this source. 

Since Pottier the commonest opinion among moral theologians 

14. A Loria, Verso la giustizia sociale; see esp. Introdnzione. 

15. See Ante, 29. 

16. R. D. Pottier, De jure et justitia (Leodii: Ancion, 1900), diss. 3, n. 33; 
cited in A. Vermeersch, Quaestiones de justitia, 46. 

17. A. Vermeersch, op. cit., +51, 46. 

18. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, 2-2, 58, 1 ad 2; 2o. 


has been that social justice is identical with legal justice. ^^ This 
use of the term seems to have been generally adopted at the 
Semaines Sociales, the program of social conference organized in 
1904 as a development from the study groups of the French Work- 
ingmen's Clubs. -*^ The Abbe Calippe said for instance in the 1913 
session that the virtue 

by which each directs himself to the end that the society 
becomes for all its members a milieu more and more in 
harmony with the personal end which they have to attain 
. . . has for formal object the good of the collectivity, of the 
society, whence it takes its name of social justice, and it 
relates ... to that collective good, not only a determined 
category of acts, but all acts, the acts of all the virtues, and 
from this comes its other name of general justice. ^^ 

Father Janvier, in his Lenten conference of Notre Dame de Paris, 
1918, used social justice to mean legal justice.-^ 

The champion of this usage is Father M. S. Gillet, O. P., who 
has defended it in a number of books and articles. In a discussion 
of legal justice he asks why St. Thomas gave the virtue such a 
name ; if it is "the justice which has directly for object the common 
Good of the society",23 why was it not named social justice? 
He answers as follows : 

In giving to this justice the name of "legal." St. Thomas 
has put the accent on its formal aspect; it pertains formally 
to law in its effect of looking toward the common Good and 
of regulating those acts of the citizens which concern it. 
If we propose today to displace that accent, to put it on the 
final aspect, it is because for usage, which is in fact master 
of language, the expression "legal" has lost much of its 
moral value ... If the expression legal justice is maintained 
to characterize our obligations of conscience in the face of 
the common Good, I fear that even Catholics will take ad- 
vantage of the word to dispense themselves from the thing ; 
that they will attempt to release themselves from their social 

19. See R. Tummulo, S. J.-T. lorio, S. J., Compendium theologiae moralis 

(Naples: D'Auria, 1934) I, 400; B. Merkelbach, O. P.. Summa theologiae 
moralis, II, 26Sn.; M. Prummer, O. P., Manuale theologiae moralis, II, 

20. Cf. P. T. Moon, The Social Catholic Movement in France, 320; 339-346. 

21. C. Calippe, "La conception catholique des devoirs d'etat", Semaine Sociale 
de France, Xe session, 1913, compte-rendu, 87. 

22. Cf. A. Michel, La question socisde et les principes theologiques, 216-217. 

23. M. S. Gillet, Conscience chretienne et justice sociale, 141. 


obligations as they do with respect to laws which they 
esteem purely penal, and especially that outside the realm 
of what the laws expressly command them, they will be- 
lieve themselves still less obliged in conscience to sub- 
ordinate to the common Good the acts of all their moral 
virtues, contrary to what St. Thomas demands of citizens 
in the name of the justice which has the common Good for 

It is thus not by caprice, nor through a certain taste 

for modernity, that I propose to substitute the expression 

social justice for that of legal justice, but for very serious 

Law today is not held in very high esteem. Father Gillet 
might have added, as a reason for abandoning the scholastic term, 
that legal justice has in modern times taken on a special meaning 
quite different from its traditional one. It is used to mean the 
incomplete, formalistic justice that positive law and its instrumen- 
talities provide, and is often opposed to real justice or fairness. 
For these reasons Gillet believes that the term social justice ought 
to be substituted even if it were not already at hand.^^ The French 
Dominicans have followed him. Father Delos, in a note on the 
article of the Summa Theologica, which concerns general justice, 
explains the use of the different names of this virtue as follows : 

In calling it general here, St. Thomas puts the accent on its 

function, and no longer on its object; in calling it legal he 

puts the accent on its formal object, the common good; 

today in calling it social we place in relief its end, which 

coincides with its object according to the general law of 

coincidence between an end and a form, the end being in 

the order of action what the form is in the order of being.^e 

Spicq2' and Bernard^^ abide by the same usage. An article in 1937 

on legal justice by the Dominicans P. Hyacinthus and M. Hering^o 

says that 

24. Ibid., 141-142. 

25. Cf. in addition to the passage cited, M. S. Gillet, "Responsibilite en 
matiere de placements de capitaux," Semaine Sociale de Toulouse 1921 
Comptes rendus, 342-343; "Le probleme social et la justice so'ciale '' 
Revue de Philosophic, 33 (1936), 180-184. 

^^' iu°^^°^: ^- ?•;. '" ^^ Justice, text and French translation of the Summa 
0-7 ?u^^°^?f ^fn£ ^*- Thomas, 2-2, 57-79; note to Q. 58, 7, in v. 1, p. 57. 
27. Ibia, II, 190ff. 

''■ In|di?ui'"f4 Tm?). iw'itS?. ''"'"'" "" "^'"' '""'^ '■ '"'°""''"" 


many public orators, magistrates, philosophers and theolo- 
gians dispute about social justice, asserting that the social 
order cannot be restored without the principles of this 
justice which they call social, and which is commonly 
enough identified with legal justice.^^ 
Father Philip Hyland's recent article in the Thomist advances a 
similar view.^^ 

There is thus good reason for identifying social justice with 
legal justice. But a history of the term among Catholic writers 
shows the sharpest controversy on this point. In 1904, not long 
after Vermeersch's book had appeared, the noted theologian Tan- 
querey discussed social justice as follows: 

Social justice, as here understood, is that by which the 
citizens are ordered to society and society is ordered to 
the citizens, for the promotion of the common good. It can 
be of three kinds : legal, distributive and vindicative . . .^- 
Conceiving mechanically of the common good as able to be por- 
tioned out among the citizens, Tanquerey supposed that it was the 
office of legal justice to give it to the society, and of distributive 
justice to return it to the citizens. He invented a new species of 
justice, vindicative, which St. Thomas had reduced to a commuta- 
tion between the punished criminal and his victim, and a distribu- 
tion granted by the judge. 

A more valuable analysis was made at about the same time in 
a re-edition of the Cours d'economie sociale of the Jesuit Charles 
Antoine.^2 He distinguishes first of all metaphorical social justice 
from social justice properly speaking. 

Metaphorical social justice consists in the state of health 
of the social body. All that expresses the meaning of social 
justice employed metaphorically is rendered with complete- 
ness and precision by the proper term : "social order," the 
order being in fact nothing else in the society than the 
conformity of the actual social state with the exemplary, 
ideal social state."^'* 

30. Ibid., 464. 

31. P. Hyland, "The Field of Social Justice," Thomist, 1 (1939), 295-330. 

32. A. Tanquerey, Synopsis theologriae moralis et pastoralis, III, 5. See J. P. E. 
O'Hanley, "Social Justice: Meaning, Necessity, Promotion," Homiletic 
and Pastoral Review, 38 (1938), 1152-53; this writer, following Tanquerey. 
divides justice into two kinds: commutative, which is particular and 
individual; and social, which is general. Social justice is subdivided into 
vindicative, legal and distributive. 

32. This deservedly popular textbook has gone through many editions; its 
author was active in the Semaines Sociales and the social movement. 
34. C. Antoine, Cours d'economie sociale, 139. 


Apparently this metaphorical social justice is analogous with 
metaphorical private justice; it conforms the actual with the ideal 
state as the latter conforms the actual life with the perfect life of 
virtue. But just as this rectitude in the individual is nothing other 
than a due order in his faculties, so what is metaphorically spoken 
of as the social justice of the society is in reality legal justice among 
the members, according to which they are duly ordered to the 
whole. So much for his first distinction ; he proceeds to others : 
Social justice properly speaking . . . has for formal 
object the right to the social good, to the common good. 
But this common good can be envisaged in its production 
or in its enjoyment, thus two aspects of social justice; it 
concerns sometimes the right of the society against each of 
its members to the production of the common good, some- 
times the right of each of the citizens against the society to 
enjoy that good. It has to regulate these two relations in 
the same direction and in a contrary sense. These two 
aspects reunited constitute, by their combination, integral 
social justice. 

And thus one recognizes in social justice, as we have 
described it, legal justice and distributive justice."^^ 
This passage regards legal justice as a kind of exchange jus- 
tice, which pays a debt by rendering some work or thing. Now the 
payment of legal justice, as we have seen, is the virtuous act itself, 
not its product. Even when that act involves rendering a product 
to the state — if for instance it consists of paying taxes according 
to distributive justice — what is paid to the common good as its 
due under legal justice is primarily the virtuous act. What the 
author has actually distinguished is two kinds of act of distributive 
justice, distribution of common possessions and distribution of 
common obligations. Taxes are owed immediately because they 
are fairly assessed, only indirectly because the common good re- 
quires them. If by production of the common good is meant creation 
of a common possession which can then be used by the community, 
it is required by distributive justice. 

But what is more probably meant is the production and enjoy- 
ment of the real common life. For the enjoyment of the social good 
is participation in the social life. Now the communication of the 
common life to the members of the society is a matter of legal 
justice, since the common good only exists in the unified life of the 
parts. If distribution of common property is used as a means to 

35. Ibid., 140-141. 


this communication, it is clearly a commanded virtue : principally 
legal justice, virtually distributive justice. 

Thus Antoine's social justice reduces either to distributive or 
to legal justice. But if it is distributive justice it cannot have 
"for formal object the right to the social good" in the most proper 
sense. The common good insofar as it consists, not only of mere 
means to the virtuous common life, but of that virtuous life itself, 
cannot be distributed to the citizens because they already have it 
as soon as there is any. 

This much of his analysis is unsound. But he continues as 
follows : 

Let us resume and dissipate equivocations. Do we wish 
to designate, by social justice, the justice which ought to 
exist in the society? In this case social justice compre- 
hends the different species of justice, and consequently 
commutative, distributive and legal justice or even equity. 
Are we dealing with the justice of which the society, con- 
sidered as a moral being, is the subject or the term? Then 
social justice is nothing else than distributive and legal 
justice. Finally, in a sense more restrained and more pre- 
cise, social justice can express the juridical bond of the 
society, the principle of unity of the social body, and then 
it is legal justice alone. ^^ 

Granted, in other words, that if social justice is one virtue it must 
be legal justice ; still usage allows the term to cover a number of 
other meanings. Now if this is so the process of definition will 
be reduced to circumscribing and distinguishing those meanings. 

This view was adhered to by a number of writers who believed 
that the current usage of the term extended its reference beyond 
legal justice. A moral theology textbook re-edited in 1909 contained 
the following observation: 

Social justice, which is often talked of today, is customarily 
taken in the same sense in which legal justice has been de- 
fined. Nevertheless it is sometimes used in so broad a 
sense that it also includes those duties which are custom- 
arily referred to distributive justice, such as the division 
among the citizens of common goods and burdens accord- 
ing to the norm of equity. ^^ 

36. Ibid., 141. 

2>7. E. Genicot, S. J. -I. Salsmans, S. J., Theologiae moralis institutiones, II, 
416, +462. 


One writer, Michel, believing the term could not be used 
precisely, advocated its rejection. First of all, he said, the word 
was ambiguous : 

Social=what concerns society ; and society is constituted 
by the relations of men with one another. But precisely all 
justice whatsoever, distributive, commutative or legal, 
regulates the relations of men with one another; ex sua 
ratione justitia habet quod sit ad alterum, says St. Thomas. 
All justice is thus social.^^ 

Furthermore usage had been unfortunate. Social justice had 
been used to include the distribution of goods, the economic organ- 
ization of society, and other matters which come directly under 
distributive justice. Even the best writers had not agreed on the 
content of social justice. It included also duties of charity and of 
natural honesty. Now it might be argued, he says, that these 
virtues all come under general justice, which requires obedience to 
all law, natural and divine as well as human. 

But the term of "social" justice does not convey these pre- 
cisions. It seems even to insinuate that the justice expressed 
by human law, which imposes the authority of the State, 
commands the accomplishment of all social duties ; which 
is, we have seen, absolutely false, social duties resting on 
charity as well as on justice properly speaking.^^ 

In answer to the last point, and without plunging too deeply 
into the extraneous question of the relation between duties of 
justice and duties of charity, it can be said that, if we are speaking 
of supernatural charity, — the love of God and of our neighbor for 
His sake, — the obligations of charity are not debts in the same way 
as obligations of justice. For charity is a love of friendship, and 
there is no justice between friends as such, since there is no other- 
ness : a friend is another self. Now if charity does not itself bind 
us in debt to others or to the social whole, no merely natural virtue 
— not even general justice, the queen of the moral virtues — can 
make charity into a debt. The truth is that legal justice can com- 
mand only the natural and not the theological virtues. It is absurd 
to think of these virtues which have God Himself for their object 
being directed to a created good, even though it be the noblest of 
human goods. Therefore, if by social duties is meant duties ordered 
to society as an end, they cannot rest on charity except mediately, 

38. A. Michel, La question sociale, 217. 

39. Ibid., 221. 


insofar as charity, itself a general virtue, directs social virtues to 
the service of God. 

Again, Gillet has since shown that social has a less ignoble 
connotation than legal to modern ears. So the point that remains 
of Michel's argument is whether a virtue commanding the duties 
not only of legal but of distributive justice is a single virtue or an 
inept innovation. 

The problem arises through an insufficiently precise under- 
standing of the nature of legal justice. As a general virtue this 
justice commands all the other virtues, directing them toward the 
common good. And it commands them, it must be remembered, 
by informing them with a higher end than they seek in themselves. 
Furthermore it is not equally concerned with all the inferior virtues, 
but chiefly with those that have the greatest social effects. And its 
action on these is often so forceful as to change their operation 
markedly. In the case of distributive justice, most prominent of 
the social virtues, it drastically modifies the amount and the prin- 
ciple of distribution, in the interest of the common good. The huge 
distributions in modern states of social security payments, for 
which labor is so important a principle, are so powerfully influenced 
by the requirements of the common good that they seem to derive 
their obligation rather from social than distributive justice. But 
if social or legal justice is a general virtue, it accomplishes the 
social end of distribution by using the virtue of distributive justice. 

Consequently, in deciding whether social justice is legal justice, 
we must look not to the acts of virtue that it exercises, but to the 
end for which it exercises them. If what is characteristic of an act 
of social justice is that it is done for the common good, then it is 
the same as legal justice, no matter how many kinds of virtues 
it uses. 

And this can be our answer to the view of Father F. J. Haas, 
who in his sociology textbook Man and Society, published in 1930, 
defends the invention of the new term social justice with arguments 
similar to those with which Michel rejected it: 

Although "social justice" governs practi'cally the same juris- 
diction as does legal justice, nevertheless it involves certain 
duties to society over and above those required by actual 
statute and custom. For example, all the community and 
philanthropic activities of a "public spirited" man are not, 
as a rule, demanded by legal justice. In this broad sense, 


the term "social justice" can hardly be objected to; rather, 
it proves of value in classifying human relationships.^*^ 

The term used in this "broad sense" only confuses classifications. 

All the activities of a public spirited man are assuredly demanded 

by legal justice. 

In addition to the view that social justice comprises a number 
of virtues, there has been another fairly widespread one, that social 
justice is an altogether new virtue. The arguments advanced for 
it are the most serious and weighty, as they must be to persuade us 
to introduce a new compartment into what appeared to be an 
exhaustive division. 

The monumental work of the German Jesuit Heinrich Pesch, 
Lehrbuch der Nationalokonomie,^^ created an economic and social 
doctrine called solidarism. Pesch based his economic analysis on 
the bond, factual and moral, which unites the members of society 
with one another and the social whole, and the whole with its 
members. Since man is a being not merely social by nature, but 
whose actual existence is always in a concrete social environment, 
the abstract theories of individualism can neither explain nor guide 
society ; on the other hand the socialist theories which tend toward 
denial and destruction of individual life make an equally unreal 
abstraction. Solidarism, a mean between these extremes, bases 
social unity on human nature and the common good. 

Since solidarism is a directive or ethical principle as well as an 
explicative principle it must be based on moral reality. The moral 
principle of social life is the common good. The basis of solidarism 
is the principle of the mutual rights and duties of society and its 
members. Pesch called this principle social justice. 

In the middle point of the system stands social justice, both 
for the whole and all single classes, solidarity as a social 
duty, firmly grounded in the moral world order.'*^ 

Pesch seems to have understood social justice to be the same 
virtue as legal justice as we have expounded it. In the same passage 
he distinguishes it from other virtues in these words : 

Charity, which is able to ease and heal the individual needs 
of many individual members of society ; private justice, 
which protects each physical and moral personality in the 
sphere of its rights ; social justice, which protects the com- 

40. F. J. Haas. Man and Society, 75. 

41. Freiburg: Herder, 5v., 1904-1924. 

42. Quoted in H. Lechtape, Der christliche Sozialismus, 15. 


mon good, which prevents or removes the misery of the 
masses and classes, which furthers the spirit of community 
in the members of society . . . '*'^ 

And in a pamphlet written with Pesch's cooperation in 1919 to ex- 
pound the doctrines of solidarism, his disciple Lechtape speaks of 
"social justice, the good of all fellow-citizens," and "a social or legal, 
a distributive, a commutative justice". "*•* 

But the later adherents of solidarism have come to regard legal 
justice as too narrow and rigid for the function they want it to 
perform. Thus Gundlach, one of the most brilliant Catholic social 
thinkers of the contemporary period, says in his article on 
"Solidarismus" in the Staatslexikon of the Gorres-Gesellschaft : 

But if one asks about the kind of "justice" that corresponds 
to the principle of solidarism as a demand for rights, it can- 
not fall under the well-known threefold division of com- 
mutative, distributive and legal justice. For firstly these 
kinds of justice presuppose a relatively closed social struc- 
ture, whereas the solidarist principle as the principle of the 
life of society is precisely the directive principle of its 
becoming, of its self-realization. Secondly the kinds of 
justice named contemplate the social life processes in a 
static cross-section, in a particular stage of development, 
whereas the solidarist principle is the principle directive 
of social life precisely in its constant movement, in its 
functional connection. Consequently the essential and dir- 
ective principle of solidarism implies a proper species of 
justice : social justice. It implies, not like the three other 
kinds of justice only one direction of the cohesive relations 
within the community, but, according to the essence of the 
solidarist unity, precisely the double direction of these co- 
hesive relations as such ; it protects the rights of the 
individuals and of the community alike. It forms the basis 
of the dynamics of that side of the life of the society which 
is concerned with rights ; it forms and guides the rights- 
relationships within the society and realizes itself in the 
three static forms of justice. "^^ 

Another Jesuit, Father Rocaries, after a similar investigation 
of the incapacities of legal and distributive justice to fulfill the 

43. Quoted in Ibid., 14. 

44. Ibid., 5. 

45. Staatslexikon, IV, 1616. 


functions of modern justice, arrived at the following definition, 
which Monsignor Ryan has praised in a recent article,^^ of the new 
virtue of social justice : 

Social justice is the virtue which governs the relations of 
the members with society, as such, and the relations of 
society with its members ; and which directs social and 
individual activities to the general good of the whole col- 
lective body and to the good of all and each of its members."*''^ 
What is the value of the charge that the traditional justices 
are one-sided, one-directioned? Our analysis has shown that 
justice, considered in itself, has a single direction ; its object is a 
person equalized. Nevertheless an act of particular justice implies 
a mutuality of obligation, simply because justice requires an other- 
ness. This is especially clear in the case of commutative justice; if 
one party to an exchange must pay, it is because the other has 
given him something; if there were no other party to give, there 
would be no exchange and no justice. But there is also a mutuality 
in distributive justice ; it requires that the distributor make a just 
division, and that the receivers acquiesce in that division. The 
object of the distributor's act of justice, a person who receives a 
distribution, becomes the subject of the same justice by acquiescing 
in it; although the reciprocality is not perfect, since he does not 
make the distributor the object of his justice. 

But in legal justice there is in one sense no mutuality at all. 
The community as such has no real duties to the individual, because 
the community is the end of the individual. The common good is 
the individual's best good; he as a part is completely ordered to 
the social whole. The moral person which is the community owes 
nothing to the individual, because it does not find in him an end 
autonomous to its own end, to which he is subordinated. The indi- 
vidual person is protected from the community, not by any private 
rights against society, but by the nature of the common good, which 
consists in the virtuous life of the whole. If that life is attained, it 
is because the members of society participate in it ; if the state in- 
jures an individual, it is only by injuring the common good. The 
social life, in the measure in which it attains to the standard of the 
common good, is shared by the members of the society. Conse- 
quently the way to get the common good into the possession of 
the members, the way to share among them the virtuous social 

46. John A. Ryan, "The State and Social Justice," Commonweal, 30 (1939), 

47. A. Rocaries, "La notion de justice sociale," Dossiers de TAction Populaire, 
Oct. 25, 1938. 


life, is to develop that life, to serve the common good. There is no 
need for another direction to legal justice ; what is good for the 
whole is good for the parts. 

In fact the solidarist principle of society is rather damaged 
than buttressed by the idea of a social justice with this double 
direction. It implies a fundamental difference in end between the 
community and the individual, a real independence between the 
common good and the private good. Thus the idea of a natural 
solidarity based on the common good is destroyed and society ap- 
pears held together by the bonds of a two-directioned justice in a 
merely accidental unity. 

Father Gundlach also criticizes the traditional justices as being 
static, rigid, closed, whereas social justice is adaptive, functional 
dynamic. It is true that the act of justice looks to a particular ade- 
quation, under a particular set of circumstances. It is also true 
that the virtues of commutative and distributive justice, considered 
in themselves, attain their objects in a very formal and changeless 
way. But as for legal justice, it must be remembered that its 
object, the common good in all its particularity here and now, is 
nevertheless the virtuous life of the real community. If there is 
any virtue whose object is a dynamic one, it is legal justice. And 
legal justice vivifies all the other virtues, including particular 
justice, by conforming them to its own object. 

Another theory than Gundlach's has attained considerable 
popularity, and that is the one developed by Messner, a man very 
prominent in Catholic social thought. His views are summarized in 
his article on "Soziale Gerechtigkeit" in the Staatslexikon. "The 
object of social justice," he says, "can be only the relation to the 
common good." Now duties regarding the common good are of 
two kinds : those based on positive state law, and those based on 
the unwritten law of nature. The traditional doctrine, Messner 
supposes, made the first kind the object of legal justice, while not 
denying that there remained duties of justice with regard to the 
common good which had not been commanded by the actual posi- 
tive law. 

All acts which injure the common good are accordingly 
a violation of common-good-justice ;'*^ i.e, the justice which 
imposes duties toward the common good.*^ 

Legal justice is general justice, he says, because the acts of 

48. The German "Gemeinwohlgerechtigkeit" is used in a quite precise sense. 

49. J. Messner, "Soziale Gerechtigkeit," Staatslexikon, IV, 1664. 


many virtues can be required by positive law and thus commanded 
by legal justice. "Comnion-good-justice" is also a general virtue, 
and the best kind of justice; whereas particular justice orders only 
external acts, the common-good-justice which uses it orders also 
internal dispositions, since these have a relation to the common 

In the broadest sense then, social justice can mean the virtue 
which commands duties to the common good insofar as they are 
required by the natural law, in distinction from legal justice in 
the narrow sense which requires only the duties of positive law. 
In this sense 

social justice comprises first of all the duties of individuals 
and social groups regarding the common good, which have 
not become the object of political legislation, then the acts 
of legal (in the narrow sense), distributive and commutative 
justice and finally the acts of all other virtues, so far as 
these are commanded by the common good.^*^ 

This conception emphasizes the social character of all rights ; the 
objective social justice corresponding to this meaning would be 
the social order itself. But this is not the only possible nor the 
commonest meaning. 

In a narrow sense — and such a one seems to lie at the basis 
of the expression used today — under social justice can be 
understood the justice which orders to the common good 
the relations of the social groups to each other (ranks and 
classes) and to the individuals as members of them, by re- 
quiring each of them to give to every other that share 
in the social good to which it has a right corresponding to 
the performance which it contributes to that good.^^ 

In this sense social justice has its application in socio-economic 
life; it is a special kind of common-good-justice, distinguished from 
legal justice which operates in political life. Granted that the socio- 
economic and the political spheres are not opposed, still they are 
not identical ; the society is more than the state, even though the 
state through its laws is its ordering principle. And we see in the 
actual development of social life the need for this special concept 
of social justice. To the extent to which modern society has ex- 
tended the sphere of economic relations and created an economic 
unity more and more important with relation to political unity, 

50. Ibid, 1664. 

51. Ibid., 1664-1665. 


the traditional kinds of justice have become increasingly inadequate. 
Commutative justice, which in primitive economies was adequate 
to determine price, wages and interest, has to be replaced more 
and more by common-good-justice. "There have arisen new duties 
and rights, which can very well be comprised under the concept of 
social justice," in this special sense. The individual is entirely 
integrated in and dependent for his livelihood on the social econ- 
omy. Wages and prices are set more and more by agreements 
between associations. The increasing importance of social groups 
and their necessity for economic life creates group rights and obli- 
gations which are the object of social justice. 

Accordingly the subjects of these rights and duties are not 
individuals, nor the state, neither of which is directly concerned 
with the responsibilities in question ; but the social groups. The 
individuals are the subjects of these obligations only as members 
of the groups ; so for instance a "cultural wage" is not obligatory 
under justice unless it has been established by agreement between 
labor organizations and employers ; though the organizations have 
the right to press for such agreements by all ethical means. 

Among the rights which social justice aims to guarantee in 
this media fashion to individuals are the following: the right to 
work, the right to economic opportunity, the right to security of 
existence, the right to be organized into groups fully and officially 
articulated into the social whole and exerting a proportionate in- 
fluence therein. The general duty imposed on the social groups is 
not to injure the just claims of other groups. 

Of the two meanings which Messner allows for social justice, 
some have followed one and some the other. Schilling prefers 
the following interpretation : 

One can define social justice as the virtue which inclines 
toward observing the norms of natural law, immediately 
given with reference to the common good, which have the 
purpose of effecting the proper adjustment of goods and 
interests within the social organism and securing for each 
group and each member the share and protection due them.^^ 

Social justice is a part of legal justice, ordering economic affairs 
to the common good through the norms of natural law, while the 
latter orders everything and through all law, positive as well as 
natural. Noldin and Schmitt, in a recent re-edition of their moral 

53. Cf. O. Schilling, "Die soziale Gerechtigkeit," Theologische Quartalschrift, 
114 (1933), 272-273. 


theolog-y textbook, give an explanation of social justice in a more 

special meaning very similar to Messner's : 

Some hold that social justice is identical with legal ; — 
others think it is a general virtue which (like general char- 
ity) ought to inform all social acts; — others finally, con- 
sidering all the texts of the Encyclical which treat of social 
justice, declare it to be a special virtue. 

Whose material object they assign as follows : various 
rights, having an undetermined subject of execution (the 
right of acquiring and increasing material goods, the right 
of paying or receiving wages other than by agreement, the 
right of finding or furnishing work, the right of associating 
oneself with others and profiting as much as possible by 
small groups). The formal object of social justice is the 
natural honesty of conformation of these rights with the 
same rights of all and of members of the whole society. 
Therefore it seeks to so temper these rights and their use 
that other members of the social whole (whether individuals 
or intermediate societies) may not be impeded and re- 
strained in the use of the same rights. So it hinders the 
accumulation of great wealth in the hands of a few and the 
domination resulting therefrom ; it strives to reduce or re- 
move unemployment ; it procures such an order of economic 
life that family wages can be paid ; it mitigates free competi- 
tion, and in place of the class struggle "the various members 
of society are joined together by a common bond."^'* 

Therefore social justice differs from legal by its ma- 
terial and formal objects ; furthermore by the fact that 
social justice has as formal term each and all members of 
society according as they are in society, while legal justice 
has as formal term the whole society taken collectively ; 
furthermore legal justice respects only obligations in the 
particular civil society of which one is a citizen, while 
social justice regulates every society and the whole human 

Thus if St. Thomas' division of justice into general and 
particular is retained, social justice can be included as a 
part of general justice. ^^ 

These interesting views rest on a misunderstanding of the 
nature of virtue and of justice in particular. We have already seen 
why a difference in the source of obligation cannot differentiate 

54. Quadragesimo Anno; cf. Four Great Encyclicals, 145. 

55. H. Noldin, S. J.-A Schmitt, S. J., Summa theologiae moralis, I, +275. 


the virtue which renders that obligation.^*^ The duties created by 
positive law are fulfilled, insofar as they are debts, by the same 
virtue as those resulting from natural law. The fact that the notion 
of legal justice has been so corrupted that in its most common 
usage it does not mean as much as it ought to does not excuse the 
creation of a virtue to correspond to that corrupted usage and 
another one to cover the part of justice left vacant by the restric- 
tion of the traditional term. The virtues are not nominal classifica- 
tions but real habits, distinct in kind. 

Consequently if we wish to accept Messner's and Schilling's 
broad definition of social justice as the justice which serves the 
common good— and with a few qualifications it is acceptable as a 
definition of legal justice — we must reject their distinction between 
this virtue and legal justice taken in an arbitrary "narrow" sense. 

The second and narrower meaning of social justice described 
so well by Messner and Noldin and Schmitt cannot be disposed of 
so easily; it raises important questions. If the political society can 
be a term of justice, cannot sub-political societies? And will not 
the nature of these intermediate societies create new rights and 

First of all it is clear that justice toward different social groups 
is not differentiated into kinds of justice according to those groups. 
Even when we are speaking of groups whose distinctness corre- 
sponds to a natural distinctness in function — for instance, the army 
or the clergy — the justice that must be done to them does not 
differ except materially. Something proper is due each class ac- 
cording to its natural function, but it is not due in a different way. 
Consequently no new justices are required to render particular 
justice to social groups or to individuals as their members. Fur- 
thermore the principles of commutative and distributive justice are 
identical whether the adjustment is among individuals or single 

Thus the view that the rights based on group or class needs 
require a new kind of justice to respect them appears untenable. 
These rights insofar as they exist are protected by commutative 
and distributive justice ; nor are these modes of justice, when di- 
rected by legal justice, static and changeless, but the exigencies of 
the common good can call into being new rights with respect to 
them when the nature of things requires it. 

What remains as a problem is whether there can be any obliga- 
tions of the sort imposed by legal justice toward the social groups. 

56 See Ante, 10. 


Messner has ruled out this possibility by saying that "the object of 
social justice can be only the relation to the common good." But 
Noldin and Schmitt's interpretation does not exclude it. 

There are two societies which are directly required by human 
nature : the family and the political society. There are many other 
associations which are naturally useful to men : schools and uni- 
versities, trade unions, cooperatives, for instance. Each of these 
looks to the promotion of some particular partial good. But whereas 
the political community is an ultimate end in the natural order, 
these associations are always means to the attainment of the com- 
mon good, the virtuous life of the whole. Now the obligation of 
legal justice comes from the fact that the individual is entirely 
ordered to the social whole. But as for the sub-political associations 
of which we are talking, they are rather ordered to the ends of the 
individuals which compose them ; not to their private ends, but to 
their common good in the formal sense. Certainly the contrary is 
not true ; a worker does not exist for the sake of his trade union. 
He has a debt to his organization insofar as it leads him toward the 
common good. To the organization as such he owes nothing, 
except as an object of particular justice; his debt is really to the 
community, to be paid by means of participation in and service to 
his union. Thus there is no other virtue than legal justice which 
is properly directed toward the social groups of which these writers 

A dissertation by E. Muhler in 1924 deplored the tendency 
apparent even then of certain writers to try to justify what they 
conceived to be rights by inventing a new jurisdiction for social 

Social justice has no place in the system of Catholic moral 
philosophy if it is anything more than a new word for an 
old thing.^^ 

The old thing was legal justice. We have seen that all these authors 
who have distinguished social justice from legal justice have 
done so through not understanding what legal justice is. 
Our review of their opinions has shown that if there is any one 
thing they mean by the term social justice, it is legal justice as 
properly understood. No valid arguments have been brought for- 
ward to justify a new division of justice. Our conclusion must be 

57. Cf. A. Pettier, De jure et justitia, diss. 3, n. 34; and A. Vermeersch, 
Quaestiones de justitda, 47-48. 

58. E. Muhler, Die Idee des Gerechten Lohnes, 1924; quoted in O. Schilling, 
"Die Frage des gerechten Lohnes," Theologische-praktische Quartalschrift 
85 (1932), 90. 


that the commonest opinion is the right one and that social justice 
as a scientific term must be a new name for legal justice.^^ 

The Encyclicals 

But the term has not had only a scientific use. Since Pius X 
the popes have made a doctrinal use of it Quadragesimo Anno 
has often been called "The Social Justice Encyclical." The papal 
encyclicals, new in modern times, represent at once the culmina- 
tion and the directive principle in the matters they teach. The 
authors of the encyclicals make use of the assistance and guidance 
of the most advanced and reliable Catholic thought and thinkers on 
the topical problems of which they treat. The question of the 
authority of the encyclicals has been much discussed, ^^ and need 
not be argued here. What is most likely is that they have the weight 
of the Church herself in her ordinary teaching function. The 
Church is a prudent mother, and her mission to teach in all seasons 
is divinely given. Prudence and obedience forbid in her members 
that they reject her teaching for light reasons. Now the Church's 
teaching authority is confined to matters of faith and morals, and 
she teaches nothing under the aspect of science; nevertheless it is 
inevitable that scientific questions should arise incidentally in the 
course of her teaching. Also, as a human institution, the Church 
is fallible in human matters ; her ordinary teaching, though sus- 
tained by special grace, is liable to error. It is only when speaking 
formally on a matter of dogma that she is preserved from error. If 
speaking informally she teaches something contrary to the truth of 
science, a man of science is justified in doubting that teaching. But 
this doubt is rash unless it is supported by weighty evidence and 

The encyclicals have in addition to this authority which is 
that of the ordinary magistracy of the Church, another authority 
which comes from the fact that they represent the opinions of the 
doctrinal leaders of the Church ; and it is in such opinions, in the 
common teaching and tradition within the Church, that the virtual 
revelation, capable at any time of formal definition, is found. 

59. Two careful dissertations within the last five years have dealt with this 
question. Father J. D. Callahan, The Catholic Attitude Toward a Familial 
Minimum Wage, examines the various opinions and concludes, for rea- 
sons similar to those we have given, that social justice ought to be 
identified with legal justice (99-112). Father P. Hyland, O. P., comes to 
a similar conclusion (cf. his article, "The Field of Social Justice," in the 
Thomist, 1 (1939), 296-330), though he believes that actual usage in- 
cludes distributive justice in social justice. (Cf. 322n.) 

60. J. Maritain in The Things That Are Not Caesar's, 25-41, gives an authori- 
tative analysis of this subject. 


Thus there are grave reasons why the encyclicals are to be 
regarded as authoritative expressions of Christian doctrine. But it 
must be remembered that they do not speak formally on scientific 
questions, and this is to be assumed especially in matters of detail. 
Yet even here they have at least the natural authority of the learned 
men who wrote them. Consequently the attitude of a man of science 
toward the encyclicals should be one of cautious criticism but ex- 
treme respect. 

In the matter in which we are interested, there is reason to give 
great weight to the use of the term social justice in the encyclicals. 
First of all it is a term in ethics and consequently in moral theology, 
a "matter of faith and morals" ; and it is not used incidentally but 
very intentionally and advisedly. Furthermore the encyclicals 
which express the best in contemporary Catholic teaching in lan- 
guage intended for the ears of all the faithful must be expected 
to use terms in accordance with their common meaning. 

Accordingly if we find that the texts of the encyclicals do not 
support our interpretation, it is a sign that we have mistaken the 
meaning of the term and it is also a reason for modifying that in- 
terpretation in the interest of uniform usage. 

Pius X in his encyclical of 1904 on Gregory the Great referred 
to that Pope as "justitiae socialis publicus defensor." Within the 
next twenty years a number of official documents emanating from 
the Holy See used the term.^^ Cardinal Gasparri, Papal Secretary 
of State, in a letter of July 9, 1928, addressed to the French social 
leader Eugene Duthoit, defined social justice as follows : 

that virtue which orders to the common good the exterior 
acts of all the other virtues. ^^ 

It is surely legal justice which is meant. 

In Quadragesimo Anno the term appears eight times. The 
passages follow : 

Wealth . . . must be so distributed amongst the various 
individuals and classes of society that the common good 
of all, of which Leo XIII spoke, be thereby promoted. In 
other words, the good of the whole community must be 
safeguarded. By these principles of social justice one class 
is forbidden to exclude the other from a share in the 

61. Cf. N. Noguer, '^Que significa justicia social? Razon Y Fe, 99 (1932) 

62. Quoted in Ibid., 321. 

63. In Four Great Encyclicals, 138. 


Each class, then, must receive its due share, and the 
distribution of created goods must be brought into con- 
formity with the demands of the common good and social 
justice, for every sincere observer is conscious that the 
vast differences between the few who hold excessive wealth 
and the many who live in destitution constitute a grave evil 
in modern society.^'* 

To lower or raise wages unduly, with a view to private 
profit, and with no consideration for the common good, is 
contrary to social justice which demands that by union of 
effort and good will such a scale of wages be set up, if 
possible, as to offer to the greatest number opportunities 
of employment and of securing for themselves suitable 
means of livelihood.^^ 

The economic supremacy which within recent times 
has taken the place of free competition . . . cannot, how- 
ever, be curbed and governed by itself. More lofty and 
noble principles must therefore be sought in order to con- 
trol this supremacy sternly and uncompromisingl}^ : to wit, 
social justice and social charity. ^^ 

This economic regime . . . violates right order whenever 
capital so employs the working or wage-earning classes as 
to divert business and economic activity to its own arbitrary 
will and advantage without any regard to the human dig- 
nity of the workers, the social character of economic life, 
social justice and the common good.^'' 

The public institutions of the nations must be such 
as to make the whole of human society conform to the 
common good, i.e, to the standard of social justice. ^^ 

Class war, provided it abstains from enmities and 
mutual hatred, is changing gradually to an honest discus- 
sion of differences, based upon the desire of social justice. ^^ 

God grant that . . . they may remain, amongst the ranks 
of those who . . . unremittingly endeavor to reform society 
according to the mind of the Church on a firm basis of 
social justice and social charity.'''^ 

64. Ibid., 139. 

65. Ibid., 143. 

66. Ibid., 147. 

67. Ibid., ISO. 

68. Ibid., 152. 

69. Ibid., 153. 

70. Ibid., 157. 


The first two passages suggest that social justice commands 
distribution; from them several writers^^ have inferred that it in- 
cludes distributive justice. But we know that distibutive justice 
does not aim at the common good ; a distribution in accordance with 
the demands of the common good is a distribution indeed, but in- 
formed by legal justice. 

The next four passages imply the relation of wage justice to 
the common good and the way in which the common good can 
direct legislation and the social behavior of individuals. What 
virtue can do this if not legal justice? The last two passages cer- 
tainly do not exclude this interpretation. 

It is true that the use of the term leaves its meaning in a cer- 
tain obscurity, but this is quite in accordance with the way in 
which the encyclicals are written. At the time of writing of 
Quadragesimo Anno the meaning of social justice was being con- 
troverted. The views of the German Jesuits who were so influential 
on the doctrines of the encyclical have been discussed. They were 
not in accord with other widespread and well-defended views. Ac- 
cordingly the term was used to convey a meaning consisting so 
far as possible in what was common between the various most 
probable opinions. Nevertheless I think that the meaning of legal 
justice makes the best sense in these passages simply because other 
meanings tend to be contradictory. 

Six years after the publication of Quadragesimo Anno Pius XI 
issued his encyclical on communism, Divini Redemptoris. A long 
passage discussed the nature of social justice in terms very favor- 
able to our interpretation. But as far as definitive statement was 
concerned, it again left the question open. 

In reality, besides commutative justice, there is also 
social justice with its own set obligations, from which 
neither employers nor workingmen can escape. Now it is 
of the very essence of social justice to demand from each 
individual all that is necessary for the common good. But 
just as in the living organism it is impossible to provide for 
the good of the whole unless each single part and each 
individual member is given what it needs for the exercise 
of its proper functions, so it is impossible to care for the 
social organism and the good of society as a unit unless 
each single part and each individual member — that is to 

71. Cf. N. Noguer, "Que significa justicia social?", Razon Y Fe, 99 (1932), 
316-317; John A. Ryan, "The New Things in the New Encyclical," 
Ecclesiastical Review, 85 (1931), 2. 


say, each individual man in the dignity of his human per- 
sonality — is supplied with all that is necessary for the ex- 
ercise of his social functions. If social justice be satisfied, 
the result will be an intense activity in economic life as a 
whole, pursued in tranquillity and order. This activity will 
be proof of the health of the social body, just as the health 
of the human body is recognized in the undisturbed regular- 
ity and perfect efficiency of the whole organism. 

But social justice cannot be said to have been satisfied 
as long as workingmen are denied a salary that will enable 
them to secure proper sustenance for themselves and their 
families ; as long as they are denied the opportunity of ac- 
quiring a modest fortune and forestalling the plague of 
universal pauperism ; as long as they cannot make suitable 
provision through public or private insurance for old age, 
for periods of illness and unemployment.'^^ 

This passage explains the way in which the adjustments of 
commutative and distributive justice can be ordered by social jus- 
tice toward the common good. It is in this way that the rights 
listed by Messner are required by social justice. Nevertheless the 
Holy Father does not entirely exclude the possibility of interpreting 
social justice to mean distributive justice or even a new virtue, 
anything in fact that can be distinguished from commutative justice. 

The kind of approbation of a scientific tenet, however, that can 
be expected from the encyclicals is surely given to the view that 
social justice is legal justice in the proper sense of that term. A 
formal statement does not appear; nevertheless the texts make it 
easy to refute those who base some other notion of the term on 
what they regard as a necessary interpretation of the encyclicals. 

Popular Use 

But unfortunately it is not the popes nor scholars who fix 
terminology, but those who use the terms. A brief summary of 
the interpretations given to social justice by the Catholic writers 
who used he term incidentallj' or popularly will be of some help 
in determining its meaning. 

In 1912 the National Conference of Social Work at Cleveland 
adopted the following standard for an "approach" to social justice : 

The welfare of society and prosperity of the state require 
for each individual such food, clothing, housing conditions. 

12. Atheistic Communism, 21-22. 


and other necessaries and comforts of life as will secure 
and maintain physical, mental and moral health.'^-^ 
The emphasis on the common good makes this expression, which 
in fact suggests the passage quoted above from Divini Redemptoris, 
agreeable to the meaning legal justice. 

The idea of social justice as a just order in society is a common 
one. The notion of seeking to bring about a just society implies a 
concern with the social good; those who put their trust in private 
virtue may hope for a good society or even expect one, but they 
will not directly want to make one. But aside from conjecture, 
those who speak of social justice as a just order generally have 
concrete ideas of what that order will involve. "It is necessary, in 
a word," says one, 

that the whole mass of existing property should keep alive 
the whole mass of existing men, if we wish social justice 
to be satisfied.'^'* 

According to another the order of social justice "will give every 
family and the community the secure material means of a good 

Others without speaking of a just order demand various re- 
forms in the name of social justice. What are these demands of 
social justice? They include social insurance, minimum wage laws, 
regulation of working hours, unemployed relief, economic security 
for workers and their families, opportunity to earn a decent living; 
full economic justice to employer and employee ; share of labor in 
ownership, management and profits; consumers' cooperatives; 
strengthening of state power to help the poor, etc. The duties of 
social justice include payment of debts and taxes, putting justice 
before charity, etc. The thought is occasionally expressed that 
social justice is the cause or result of a new social conception of 
personal rights. 

These demands, it will be noticed, when they do not have a 
direct reference to the common good, are for things which seem 
fair and just but to which no particular right is enforced. There 
are many such things, clearly able to be ordered to the common 
good, and thus commanded by legal justice, but for which it is 
difficult to find an obligation by any subordinate virtue. Thus 

12). Quoted in W. J. Kerby, The Social Mission of Charity, 67. 

74. A. Belliot, O.F.M., Manuel de sociologfie catholique, 105. 

75. Bishop E. V. O'Hara of Kansas City, "Statement on commemoration of 
the Anniversaries of Reconstructing the Social Order and The Condition 
of Labor," Ecclesiastical Review, 94 (1935), 449-450. 


Arreg-ui, in his Summarium Theologiae Moralis, doubtful whether 
a family wage is required by strict commutative justice, has no 
hesitation in saying that it is due in legal justiceJ*^ This does not 
mean that legal justice commands them immediately; the sub- 
ordinate virtue is used, but it is affected so considerably by the 
requirements of the common good that it is difficult to dis- 
tinguish it. 

Furthermore it is quite usual for Catholic popular writers to 
say, in accordance with the encyclicals, that social justice is the 
virtue directed toward the common good, or that it seeks the com- 
mon welfare. For instance Father G. C. Treacy, S. J., in the "Dis- 
cussion Club Outline" published with Divini Redemptoris in the 
Paulist Press edition, says that 

social justice binding alike employer and employee . . . 

demands from each individual all that is necessary for the 

common good.'*^'^ 

The views of Father C. E. Coughlin, who has brought the term 
much fame and notoriety, deserves to be mentioned. He writes in 
one passage : 

Social justice deals with classifications of men, or voca- 
tional groups of men . . . Each classification must render to 
every other classification its just dues."^^ 
This view resembles some of those treated above. But the social 
reference of the "just dues" in question becomes clear from other 
statements. Social justice turns out to mean just production and 
distribution of wealth to all. The evils condemned as social in- 
justices include excessive taxes, farm losses, want in the midst of 
plenty, protection of vested interests, inequitable participation of 
the working class in the profits of industry ; with special emphasis 
on money tyranny. Even here no considerable violence would be 
done to his notion of social justice if it were interpreted to mean 
legal justice. 

A pamphlet prepared by the National Catholic Welfare Con- 
ference in 1935 explained the demands of social justice in this way: 
In the field of production social justice demands such 
a use of our natural, technological and human resources as 
will provide all our people with a decent livelihood and en- 

76. 231, +405. 

n . Atheistic Communism, 42. 

78. C. E. Coughlin, "Social Justice: How to Attain It," in a symposium on 
The Modem Social and Economic Order, 353-354. 


sure a steady elevation of the standard of living ... In the 
field of distribution, social justice demands a far greater 
measure of equity than now obtains in the United States . . . 
In more specific terms, social justice demands : wages 
and hours which will ensure continuous employment, a 
decent livelihood and adequate security for all workers ; 
the prices of commodities so adjusted and interrelated that 
the various groups of producers can command the means 
of a decent and appropriate livelihood ; such a reduction in 
the general rate of interest as will on the one hand, evoke 
sufficient saving for the common good, and on the other 
hand, permit neither excessive investment nor insufficient 
consumption. Finally, social justice requires all the eco- 
nomic classes to promote the common good by a reasonable 
amount of honest labor and service. '''^ 

The proper organization of economic life would permit the people to 

fulfill that duty of social justice which requires them to 
build an economic order within a governmental order, that 
will pervade all ownership and all work, in the service of 
the common good. 

Employees would have the knowledge and power to 
use their organizations for social justice to themselves and 
social justice in output and prices for all the people . . . 
Farmers, middle class business groups and the professions 
would be so organized that they could guide their function 
in society to their own welfare and to the welfare of others. 
This is social justice. ^^ 

These are clear enough statements of the subjects, object and most 
relevant matter of social justice as we have understood it. 


While social justice is primarily a term of social Catholicism, 
it has been widely used by people outside the Leonine tradition. It 
is commonly supposed that for any but Catholic writers the term 
has no consistent meaning. It will nevertheless be useful to ex- 
amine the chief uses of it by others. The books of Willoughby and 
Loria have already been discussed. ^i Willoughby's primary con- 
cern was with distributive justice and individual protection, but 

79. Organized Social Justice, 4-5. 

80. Ibid., 12-13. 

81. Supra, 87-90. 


Loria saw in social justice the directive principle of a cooperative 
social life, a conception similar to the one which identifies social 
with legal justice. 

In 1914 the eminent American jurist Roscoe Pound, in an article 
tracing what he calls the "socialization" of law and justice, speaks 
of judges who "did not hesitate to contrast what they called legal 
justice with social justice."^^ By legal justice they meant the jus- 
tice enforceable by strict law, directed toward individual rights; 
by social justice he means justice directed toward the public wel- 
fare. He observes as a sign of the socialization of law the 

strong and growing tendency, where there is no blame on 
either side, to ask, in view of the exigencies of social justice 
who can best bear the loss, and hence to shift the loss by 
creating liability where there has been no fault.^^ 
The chief regard, he believes, must come to be given to social in- 
terests ; law must be ruled by the common welfare. But 

the individual life, in which there is a social interest, is a 

moral and social life. Hence the social interest does not 

extend to exercise of individual faculties for anti-social 

purposes of gratifying malice.^* 

His idea of social life and social interest has a utilitarian aspect. 

But he has surely used social justice in the traditional sense of 

legal justice. 

T. N. Carver in 1915 published a volume of Essays in Social 
Justice. The introductory chapter contains the following defini- 
tions : 

On what principle or principles, according to what 
rules, shall the state control and discipline its members, and 
adjust their conflicting interests, protecting some and re- 
straining others? That is the problem of social justice. It 
has to do with the internal economy of the nation rather 
than with its external relations. As to the individual, it has 
to do with his external relations with his fellow citizens 
rather than with his internal adjustments . . . 

In the most general terms, therefore, justice may be 
defined as such an adjustment of the conflicting interests 
of the citizens of a nation as will interfere least with, and 
contribute most to, the strength of the nation. 

82. R. Pound. "The End of Law as Developed in Legal Rules and Doctrines," 
Harvard Law Review, 27 (1914), 196. 

83. Ibid., 233. 

84. R. Pound, The Spirit of the Common Law, 198. 


Looked at from another angle the same idea may be 
expressed by saying that justice is the name for the moral 
obligation of the state, as distinct from the individual, with 
respect to its task of adjusting conflicting interests. Since 
the state has this to do, it must find out how to do it. What 
ought the state to do with respect to these conflicts, and 
how ought it to do it? These are the questions of social 
justice. ^^ 
Unfortunately this passage describes two kinds of justice: dis- 
tributive justice, of which the state through its representatives is 
the subject, and which involves control and discipline, adjustment 
of interests, protection and restraint; and legal justice of a low 
kind, insofar as that distribution is one that "will interfere least 
with, and contribute most to, the strength of the nation." These 
two notions run along togeher all through the book. One chapter 
is devoted to showing 

that distribution according to worth, usefulness or service 
is the only sound principle for society to follow in its ex- 
ercise of legal control over the process ; in other words, that 
this is the principle of social justice. ^^ 
At the same time the principle used to determine this canon of 
distribution, and to decide every question that is raised, is what 
will best conduce to "the strength of the nation." It is true that 
Carver conceives of this national welfare in a crude way ; the 
emphasis is laid on economic survival as the test. Nevertheless 
social justice as he understands it is not too far from legal justice — 
it consists in just distribution ordered toward a kind of common 

Paul Elmer More discusses social justice in his Aristocracy and 
Justice, published in 1915. Like Carver he gives a definition which 
looks very much like distributive justice, though it is ordered by 
a somewhat different principle than Carver conceives. 

Social justice is such a distribution of power and privilege, 

and of property as the symbol and instrument of these, as 

at once will satisfy the distinctions of reason among the 

superior, and will not outrage the feelings of the inferior.^'^ 

But this apparently distributive justice in society is analogous, he 

tells us, with the rule in the soul of the private justice which is 

virtue. He regards individual justice as 

85. T. N. Carver, Essays in Social Justice, 9-10. 

86. Ibid, 171. 

87. P. E. More, Aristocracy and Justice, 120. 


the inner state of the soul when, under the command of the 

will to righteousness, reason guides and the desires obey.^^ 

but "social justice complements, or even supplants, the conscience 

of the individual. "^^ Now as we have seen the most characteristic 

thing about legal justice is its analogousness with virtue in the soul. 

A book by John Bates Clark with the topical title Social Justice 
Without Socialism appeared in 1914. For one man to plunder 
another, he said, is contrary to just distribution, and so is any 
monopolistic practice that reduces the general income. The remedies 
that acts of these kinds require are such legislative enactments 
as anti-trust laws, tariff reductions, laws to conserve natural re- 
sources ; and vigorous private initiative too. "Social justice" also, 
he says, "demands some effective way of getting legal justice," 
using the latter term in the sense which we deplored above.^^ 
Social justice in general is a just situation in society. 

A little book by Stephen Leacock published in 1920 contains 
equally vague observations about social justice. He conceives of it 
primarily as an objective order, as a state in which the best possible 
economic situation is realized. ^^ This state, in fact, is what free 
competition tends toward. Everyone gets a reward exactly pro- 
portionate to his efforts, the fruit of his labor. Social justice de- 
mands social legislation to correct the most serious injustices and 
provide a measure of equality of opportunity. 

In 1927 one of Sherwood Eddy's books presented some dis- 
cussion of social justice. It consists for him in fair behavior — not 
exploiting one's neighbor, not taking an excessive share of available 
wealth, nor oppressing the weak, but treating all equally. The 
justice of society which guarantees to everyone equality before the 
laws is social justice. And it is also a goal to be striven for, a just 
social order — "some distant measure of equality of opportunity that 
shall provide 'the good life' for all who toil."^- 

These views come only close enough to the idea of legal justice 
to attain the notion of an order of justice in society. Clark and 
Leacock want this order to be provided by a regulated competitive 
distribution ; Eddy, by the practice of unimpeachable private com- 
mutative justice. Leacock sees no further than economic justice,. 
They say little that has precise significance about the term, and 

88. Ibid., 116. 

89. Ibid., 117. 
90 Cf. supra. 30. 

91. S. Leacock, The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, 41. 

92. S. Eddy, Religion and Social Justice, 207-208. 


there is no use conjecturing what they mean by it ; but their views 

would lose none of their sense if we substituted the notion of legal 

justice for the ones they have about social justice. 

A use of the term which is especially interesting in view of the 

author's general views on politics and law is that of Hauriou, the 

eminent French jurist. He opposes justice and the social order. 

Justice has as its end aequum et bonum, that is to say an 
equality or at least a proportionality between men in the 
enjoyment of a good . . . The social order . . . has two kinds 
of end ... to assure stability in its relations and to under- 
take to make a civilization, that is to say to develop a 
society susceptible of realizing in all its consequences the 
highest human type.^^ 

The two are often in passing opposition ; and when that occurs 

justice must give way, because 

the social order is an element of society more primordial 
than justice . . . The social order represents the minimum 
of existence and social justice is a luxury which, to a cer- 
tain measure, can be dispensed with.^"* 

Social justice is the achievement and reconciliation of justice in 
the social order. And it is realized in varying degrees, like the ideal 
of beauty in an actual statue which the sculptor first chisels out 
roughly and perfects by constant retouchings. And the retouchings 
are limited by the nature of the medium ; the static equilibrium of 
the social order should not be disturbed.^^ 

Justice for Hauriou, consisting in equality or proportionality, 
is commutative or distributive justice. Social justice is the social 
incorporation of particular justice ; not general justice in any sense, 
except virtually insofar as these virtues are vitalized by social rec- 
ognition. It is in the ultimate primacy of the social order that we 
find the idea of the common good as the principle of all justice. 

Social justice has not infrequently been used to mean distribu- 
tive justice, but rarely in such a way as to distinguish it from the 
legal justice which uses distribution as an instrumental virtue. But 
the following passage from Robertson's well-known book on Money 
clearly divides it against the justice directed toward the common 
good : 

If the effects of the instability of value of money were exer- 

93. M. Hauriou, Precis de droit constitutionnel, 36. 

94. Ibid., 2>7. 

95. Ibid.,..40-41. 


cised only on the way in which wealth is shared, they might 
not be of such fundamental importance: for though the 
consequent changes might not bear much relation to social 
justice, they would not necessarily diminish the total 
economic welfare of society, and might even substantially 
increase it.^® 
He considers a situation in which social justice, that is just distribu- 
tion, might be violated while the common welfare was being ad- 
vanced. Of this quite precise conception it can only be said that 
it is not very common. 

Meanwhile a number of books were appearing which used the 
term in a sense very akin to that of legal justice. L. T. Hobhouse's 
The Elements of Social Justice was published in 1922.^' Nearly 
thirty years earlier he had stated his views on social justice with- 
out using the term. Social reform required, he said, "a keener sense 
of justice, a livelier feeling for the common good, a broader and 
deeper sense of common responsibility."^^ The end of social action 
is social health and health requires cooperation of the members and 
functions of an organism. "In the body this relation of function 
and nourishment is called Health. In Society it is called Justice. "^^ 
This view, derived from Green's influence, is similar to Plato's idea 
of justice. Now of course if social justice is the health of the social 
organism, the well-regulated life of the social whole, it is nothing 
but objective legal justice. 

Irving Babbitt is perhaps the onh^ important thinker who has 
made a point of attacking social justice. It is interesting to see 
what his criticism is and what is the social justice that he criticizes. 
He fears "substituting for real justice the phantasmagoria of social 
justice, "^^^ because it represents a merely mechanical solution of 
what is for him the only problem of life, the problem of virtuous 
living, of ordering oneself well. He is unwilling 

to shift, in the name of sympathy or social justice or on any 
other ground, the struggle between good and evil from the 
individual to society. ^''^ 

Babbitt believes that any attempt to reform society as such is a 
symptom of the sentimental Rousseauan notion that it is not men 

96. D. H. Robertson, Money, 13; 2 ed., 1929. 

97. New York: Holt. 1922. 

98. L. T. Hobhouse, The Labour Movement, 18. 

99. Ibid., 18. 

100. I. Babbitt, Democracy and Leadership, 298. 

101. Ibid., 289. 


who are bad in themselves, but it is only social institutions that are 
bad. The justice that is needed is justice between individuals. It is 
only as a "reply to the unrestraint of the individual" that "another 
doctrine of rights, the rights of society" has come forward. ^^^ The 
real remedy is an individualism based not on rights but on duties. 

Babbitt as a humanist "would have the individual exercise the 
control" over himself "not primarily for the good of society, but 
for his own good." ^^^ In fact Babbitt lacks a clear notion of the 
common good as a properly social life ; so that it appears to him 
that "social justice . . . means in practice class justice, "^^^ or at 
best mere social utility. But while he has an inadequate notion of 
social justice and its object, he uses it in a sense clearly similar to 
that of legal justice. It is a notion of justice toward the society 
and its good. 

At Carver's suggestion one of his students, C. W. Pipkin, who 
had an opportunity to go to Oxford, made a study under the direc- 
tion of G. S. Adams of the growth of the social idea in France and 
England. The book which resulted was entitled The Idea of Social 
Justice. The conception of social justice which the explanatory 
chapters develop is based closely on the Aristotelian idea of legal 
justice. Adams writes in his Introduction to the book : 

Justice is in its nature social, for it consists in the right 
relation of individuals one to another. But when we speak 
of Social Justice we are thinking of the collective expression 
given to the idea of justice through the laws and customs, 
the orders and the social provisions which express the will 
of the community. To find the answer to what is Social 
Justice, we must try to form a complete idea of the com- 
munity, seeing the manifold relations within it, each of 
which contributes to the sum of Social Justice. ^^^ 

That which alone can give order and cohesion to the 
efforts of society is the controlling idea of Social Justice. ^^*^ 

Plato's Republic is an idealization of social justice. 

The author in describing the content of his book mentions 
the efforts which were made to express the ideal of com- 
munal good in the action of the legislature, in the expansion 
of the corporate activity of groups, and the ever increasing 

102. Ibid, 296. 

103. Ibid., 210-211. 

104. Ibid,, 308. 

105. C. W. Pipkin, The Idea of Social Justice, ix. 

106. Ibid., X. 


function of voluntary organization in community life . . . 
In this study social justice is a definitely chosen ethical 
ideal of relationships existing between the State and in- 
dividuals. By this ideal the England and France of today 
is judged, and the question asked is: Has the good life been 
made definitely a purpose of the community and of indivuals 
in the efforts which have been made to bring about condi- 
tions which make the good life possible ?"i07 
And in his conclusion he says : 

Social justice will demand a social morality which will en- 
able the community to get the best out of all individuals and 
thereby help to bring in the full creative spirit of the good 
community. ^^^ 
For "the ultimate goal of social justice is the well-being of all the 
people. "^^^ 

Social justice was early accepted as a slogan by religious 
groups of many denominations. An editor of The Kingdom, a radi- 
cal Congregationalist weekly, in 1898 wrote that 

social justice as a dominant passion of religion, instead of 
theological and ecclesiastical questions, is peculiarly 
modern. 11*^ 
For the next few decades that passion was to dominate American 
Protestantism more and more. 

The Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1920 adopted a 
"Social Justice Program, "^^^ and in 1922 the Reformed Jewish Con- 
gregations adopted a Ritual of Social Justice on the Day of Atone- 
ment. ^^^ A book entitled Social Justice (From Scripture and Jewish 
Tradition) was printed in 1923 in honor of the Golden Jubilee Con- 
vention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations of that 
year. Written by the managing editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia 
and with an introduction by Edward Filene, it presented a militant 
plea for the social justice preached by the prophets. The Social 
Justice Movement, "a fight to the finish for the rights of our fellow- 
men," 11^ founded not on sentimentalism but on the scientific basis 
of biology and psychology and a knowledge of economic and social 
facts, together with sympathy and understanding of human rights, 
was to strive for equality of opportunity and an extension of democ- 

107. Ibid., 8-9. 

108. Ibid., 551. 

109. Ibid., 552. 

110. The Kingdom, May 26, 1898; quoted in J. Dombrowski, The Early Days 
of Christian Socialism in America, 113. 

111. Printed in The Survey, 44 (1920), 654. 

112. Cf. I. Singer, Social Justice. 

113. Ibid. 


racy to the economic sphere. In this, it must be confessed, there is 
no notion of legal justice because there is no notion of a common 
good. All that can be said is that this view would lose nothing 
by basing the demands of social justice on social rather than indi- 
vidual rights. 

The fecundity of the term is witnessed by the crank doctrines 
and movements that have adopted it as a shibboleth. A remarkable 
book called Social Justice, a Message to Suffering Humanity, ap- 
peared in 1910. The author notified his readers that he had solved 
the problem of justice and morality by discovering the principles 
on which conduct must be based. "Now, for the first time," he de- 
clares, "have all social questions been reduced to simple questions 
of right and wrong."^^'* All that one must do is discover what his 
self-interest is. He will find that it will not allow him to harm 
anyone else. When this is done social justice — a social state in 
which everyone is treated justly — will have arrived. An equally 
sententious treatment of the question appeared in a little book of 
1926, Social Justice: The Moral of the Henry Ford Fortune, which 
concluded that "unhindered working of the law of Supply and 
Demand best does Social Justice." Father Coughlin organized a 
highly doctrinaire political movement around the term. 

Some of the data is now at hand for answering the question. Is 
social justice in actual usage a single term? Vague and various as 
that usage has been, most of the meanings have had something 
in common. If we can make scientific use of words like socialism 
or liberalism, which have been applied in actual usage to everything 
under the sun, it is hard to see why social justice, a term with much 
greater uniformity of meaning, could not by careful definition be 
made capable of use by moral scientists. Now the most important 
thing in definition is to name one thing; and that is why concep- 
tions of social justice as some new species or combination of virtues, 
though they could conceivably obtain some use in history or 
sociology, can never be adopted by ethical or political science. The 
next most important thing is to come as close as possible to the 
most common usage, both popular and technical. There is no one 
virtue to which social justice as the term is used could be more 
readily equated than legal justice ; a majority of the meanings are 
reducible to legal justice as properly understood. Therefore if the 
term is to be used at all it should be used to mean legal, general 
justice. The question whether it ought to be used at all will be 
discussed next. 

114. P. V. Jones, Social Justice, a Message to Suffering Humanity. 





The Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno has finally and 
definitely established, theologically canonized, so to speak, 
social justice.^ 

So writes a commentator on the encyclical. It seems temerar- 
ious to question the advisability of using a term which the Church 
has applied to the virtue directive of all social life. But actually it 
would be wrong to think so.^ The term was used in the encyclicals 
because it was current. If it disappears from popular and scientific 
language papal documents can easily substitute another term. In 
fact if in ordinary usage it is as vague and meaningless a term as 
many believe, so that its employment is rhetorically damaging to 
the message of the encyclicals, it might be very useful to cause it 
to be discontinued. That there is such a thing as social justice, 
and that it imposes real obligations, it would be imprudent and rash 
to deny; but whether social justice is the best name for it is a 
question that ought to be answered critically. 

We have seen that the notion that social justice is an ex- 
tremely ambiguous term is founded on the fact, not that it is used 
with too many different meanings, but that it commonly and 
primarily is used to mean something that is not very well under- 
stood. The remedy for this condition is a wider and sounder under- 
standing of the precise nature of the end, obligations and acts of 
the general justice with which social justice must be identified. 

But it is possible that social justice is a term which by virtue of 
its connotations places difficulties in the way of the clear under- 
standing that is desirable. The collection of opinions in the last 
chapter furnishes data useful for the solution of this problem. There 
has been a very evident tendency even for those who had at bot- 
tom a right notion of what social justice is to confuse it in some 
way with distributive justice. The views of Hauriou, Schilling, and 
Father Ryan are very illuminating in this regard. They wish to 
make social justice into particular justice because they want it to 
guarantee rights to individuals. For this reason there is a tendency 

1. C. von Nell-Breuning. Reorganization of Social Economy, 5. 

2. A. Michel, La question sociale, commenting on the first papal use of the 
term, observed that "it would be an exaggeration to hope to find in this 
use by Pius X a justification and, so to speak, a consecration of a term 
used currently today in sociology," 214. 


to regard social justice as the principle of rights against society 
rather than obligations toward society. 

Now in fact neither distributive justice nor social justice gives 
absolute rights against the society. A person who gets a distribu- 
tion has a right against the distributor only in the sense that he is 
entitled to be paid proportionally with the other people who are 
objects of the distribution. Neither the distributor as the agent of 
the community whose goods are divided nor the community itself 
has any prior obligation to make the distribution other than the 
obligation that is created by the requirements of the common good, 
other than, that is to say, in social justice. It is only while distribut- 
ing that the distributor is bound, and he is bound to respect the 
proportions of merits of those being paid. These latter have rights 
rather against each other, rights to their due share, than against 
the distributor or the community he represents. But the individual- 
istic conception of natural rights, which denied society any proper 
end and confined the state to the function of serving the merely 
private needs of individuals, included among those rights many 
rights against a society bound in a merely external way to its 
members. This is the source of the notion that distributive justice 
creates rights against the society, and it is the individualistic resi- 
due in modern Catholic thought which is responsible for the 
tendency to identify this misconstrued distributive justice with 
social justice. 

Is there anything in the name social justice which has en- 
couraged this misinterpretation? Babbitt's suggestive criticism of 
social justice implies a criticism of the name. Social justice, he says, 
is another attempt to substitute a social solution of individual dis- 
order for private virtue. He traces it to the twin roots of utilitarian- 
ism and romantic sentimentalism.-"^ For the notion that some social 
rearrangement will inprove things for the individual by giving him 
what he has coming is connected both with the romantic idea that 
institutions alone make people bad and with the utilitarian con- 
ception of society as a pure means to individual happiness. 

The one-sidedness of Babbitt's views on social justice resulted 
from his own peculiar brand of moral individualism, from his failure 
to recognize the reality of the social life. But there is no question 
that the term in ordinary usage has the sentimental and utilitarian 
implications which he described. The connotation of the word 
social for the last century has been a humanitarian one. The duality 

3. I. Babbitt, Democracy and Leadership, 204ff.; 289ff. 


of individual and social was made to correspond with that other 
duality so corruptive of ethical thought during the period, of egoism 
and altruism. Until the socialization of utilitarianism it was not 
only altruistic to be social, but society was expected to be entirely 
altruistic with respect to its members. This viewpoint still dom- 
inates the contemporary outlook on social problems, in spite of the 
altered content of the terms ; so that while everyone assumes that 
society owes him something, the "social-minded" individual is 
praised for his generosity and idealism. Social justice is the title 
in whose name the individual demands things as his rights, and also 
a virtue of "social-minded" justice in those who do not claim more 
than is coming to them. Such is the common understanding of 
the term; and even though it is true that this understanding, in 
itself contradictory, would be adequately deepened if the true nature 
of the common good and social justice were realized, yet the con- 
fusion of our age about the relation of society and individual has 
hardened into slogans with little meaning. The very word social, 
with all the connotations that attached to it when, in the heyday of 
individualism, it was the latter's antithesis, hinders the diffusion of a 
sound knowledge of what social justice is and what its obliga- 
tions are. 

This being true, our first impulse would be to say that the 
term should be abandoned. But the matter is not so simple. First 
of all a rejection of the term is apt to mean a weakening of the 
power of the idea. For a new term cannot be flung into general 
use in a day; furthermore a change in terminology always causes 
confusion in the understanding of the thing named, as is sufficiently 
witnessed by the very introduction of the term social justice. Again, 
such a change is not only very slow but very difficult ; many will 
cling tenaciously to the old terms; the history of science is full of 
examples of persistent use of the most inadequate terms in spite 
of repeated efforts to replace them. It is only a very serious reason 
that can justify attempting to disturb established usage in such 

Furthermore a fact that must be recognized is that there is no 
other term to use. Legal justice, as we have noted, today means 
something totally different from social justice. What confusions 
would not result from the scientific, not to mention the popular, 
use of the term legal justice in this sense! As for general justice, 
aside from the scientific objection that this term does not name the 
real essence of the virtue, it is one not likely to attain any popular 
appeal. All the terms which could usefully be employed for this 


purpose have unfortunately already been appropriated to some con- 
fused or contrary meaning. We must make the best use of the only 
terms at our disposal. 

And in fact social justice is a term that has much to recom- 
mend it. The arguments which Gillet and Delos used to justify it, 
which have been cited, have a good deal of force. The clarity of 
the term in itself may, if social justice becomes a popular virtue, 
have a salutary effect on the contemporary notion of society. With- 
out intending to slavishly copy the terminology of the encyclicals, 
we ought to approve the precise use of the term social justice. 


The intellectual need which fostered the invention of the idea 
of social justice was the impotence of individualist thought to 
direct social life. The value of that idea is that it fills the need. 

It remains to establish what Pius XI asserted in Quadragesimo 
Anno, that "more lofty and noble principles" than individualistic 
ideals "must therefore be sought in order to control this supremacy" 
— that of economic power — "sternly and uncompromisingly : to wit, 
social justice and social charity."* Is the idea of social justice so 
important that without it genuine reform of the socio-economic 
order is impossible? 

If the virtue of social justice is important, then the idea of 
social justice is important; for virtue being a habit of doing difficult 
things according to a rational principle, it can never be developed 
or inculcated unless someone has the idea. But there is another 
way, a less intrinsic but a very instructive way, to tell whether an 
idea is important, and that is by the interest that men of ideas take 
in it. The growth of opposition to individualism was a growth in 
importance of the idea of social unity. In the last chapter we dis- 
cussed the development of the term and the idea of social justice, 
the virtue of social unity. But what has been called the idea of social 
justice was expressed in other ways than the term social justice. 
In our century that idea has been exerting a constantly growing 

The direction given to its development in English and Amer- 
ican social thought owes much to the school of idealists of whom 
T. H. Green was the most important representative in ethics and 
politics. Believing in an objective ethics which consisted in rea- 

4. Four Great Encyclicals, 143. 


sonable self-realization and development, Green laid great 
emphasis on the value of the state in human life. Its function, 
he said, was not primarily a coercive and restraining one, but 
essentially a moral one. The purpose of the state was to help man 
to realize his reason, i. e., his idea of self-perfection, by 
acting as a member of a social organization in which each 
contributes to the better being of all the rest.^ 
He emphasized the reality of the common good as an end of 
human life and the duty of the individual to assist in its develop- 
ment.^ However his thought was weakened by the combination, 
characteristic for idealism, of altruism and relativism in his moral 
doctrines, which renders them unattractive today. 

Toward the end of the last century in France a doctrine was 
developed which achieved considerable popularity both in academic 
and in practical political circles under the name of "solidarism".^ 
The school was started by the economist Charles Gide ; Leon Bour- 
geois, a political leader, was the foremost apologist for it. On the 
idea of the quasi-organic character of society Bourgeois built the 
notion of collective responsibility and social debt. Since society 
has fulfilled its side of the social quasi-contract — not a historical 
contract but truly contractional because ratified by consent — by in- 
calculably enriching, through centuries of protective development, 
the heritage of its present members, the latter have a genuine 
obligation of repayment. This payment is to be made by the 
wealthy, who have benefited most by the social arrangements, to 
the underprivileged. The practical reforms required as a payment 
of the social debt included free education, guarantee of the means 
of life, insurance against its risks. ^ 

Bourgeois writes of the social debt : 

No man is free as long as he is in debt. He becomes free 
the moment he pays off that debt. The doctrine of solidarity 
is just the corrective of the theories of private property 
and individual liberty.^ 

It is because the doctrine provided a basis for moderate criticism 
of the laissez-faire theories that it was adopted by Gide. Solidarism 

5. T. H. Green, Lectures on the Principles of Politicail Obligation, Par. 7 
(Works, II, 334-553); cited in F. W. Coker, Recent Political Thought, 422 

6. Cf. T. H. Green, A Prolegomena to Ethics, 229-289. 

7. This must not be confused with Pesch's solidarism; the two schools 
developed quite independently. 

8. Cf. Gide and Rist, History of Economic Doctrines, 599. 

9. L. Bourgeois, Essai d'um philosophic de la solidante, (Paris: Alcan, 1902), 
45; quoted in Gide and Rist, cp. cit., 596. 


shows the necessity, on purely utilitarian grounds, of social con- 
cern ; for the gains of society return with increase to the individual.^*^ 
The whole doctrine has a decidedly individualistic cast: Bourgeois' 
work was to establish a foundation for placing the social debt within 
the category of strict commutative (and perhaps distributive) jus- 
tice; Gide, uninterested in justice, based his solidarism somewhat 
sentimentally on individual utility. ^^ 

A deep interest in the question of community was stimulated 
in the continental jurists by the grave legal problems of state inter- 
vention in the spheres so long reserved for individual action. In a 
reaction to the positivist views of right as a creation of the state 
— which in turn was the contemporary reaction to the revolution- 
ary natural rights dogmatism — Rudolph Stammler developed his 
doctrine of "richtige Recht". The science of jurisprudence, he said, 
was a science of means and ends, its purpose to find whether law 
is just — i. e., ordered as a means to what is understood to be the 
end of law. And the end of law is the perfect community. ^^ This 
perfect community is nothing actually existing, but the goal to- 
ward which society tends ; a community which makes possible 
perfect individual development. Though law operates through 
penalties and rewards, its aim is a moral one; ideal human society, 
"a community of men willing freely. "^^ 

The most prominent of the French jurists who rejected both 
positivism and the individual rights philosophy for a social con- 
ception of law is Leon Duguit. The highest law in any community, 
he says, is superior to the state. It is not a static set of principles 
but it is limited by the fact of social solidarity whose benefits it 
has to preserve.^* His followers have gone farther toward the 
notion of a common good as the principle of law. 

We believe, with L. Duguit, that there exists a rule of law 
anterior and superior to the state, — a rule of law founded 
on solidarity and on justice. It is from this rule of law that 
are derived objective law and subjective rights. ^^ 

So writes one of them. Hauriou takes a more radical position in- 
fluenced by Aristotelian politics. And we may mention Le Fur, 
whose doctrines, grounded in scholastic philosophy, have gained 

10. Gide and Rist, op. cit., 612. 

11. See for a complete discussion of French solidarism, Ibid., 587-614. 

12. Cf. R. W. Coker, op. cit., 528. 

13. R. Stammler, The Theory of Justice, Tr. (New York: Macmillan, 1925), 
153. Cf. R. W. Coker. op. cit, 528-530. 

14. C. G.Haines, The Revival of Natural Law Concepts, 260-268. 

15. P. Guillemon, De la rebellion et de la resistance aux actes illegaux (Thesis, 
Bordeaux, 1921), 6; cited in Haines, op. cit., 270. 


many adherents in France : who insists that the social life is the 
only life possible for man and that he must be ordered in respect 
to it by the law which expresses natural justice. ^^ 

Very interesting too is Gurvitch's theory of droit social. Per- 
ceiving that there is a large body of law which does not have its 
origin in the state and is superior to the state, he was led to the 
conclusion that the most basic object of positive law is a social 
right, a "right of the Society," opposed to the rights of the State. ^''' 
He conceives that any social totality has such a right for its 

The phenomenon is always the same : limitation of the 
juridicial order of the State by the right of non-state total- 
ities, whether these are interior or exerior to the State : 
integration of the individuals and groups in the totalities 
irreducible to the sum of their members, without their being 
subordinated to these totalities and without these being 
erected into superior and transcendant entities ; a right 
which imposes itself in a positive fashion without being 
commanded by a will and without the consent of those in- 
terested. It is everywhere the idea of the immanent totality, 
of the communion, symbolized in the pronoun We, which 
is opposed as well to the me and thee, who are coordinated, 
as to the they, who dominate. ^^ 
This theory calls attention to the little understood field of 
right and justice outside the state organization. Droit social is the 
right of an individual just as a member of some community. This 
notion as applied to the social whole would not differ much from 
the idea of social justice, which is concerned with the right of the 
society, the right of the common good, and of individuals only as 
participating in that good. But Gurvitch seems to conceive of the 
common good of the whole society somewhat atomistically. The 
idea of social right is to be understood as 

right of integration, right of communion and of collabora- 
tion in an anti-hierarchial totality (the "We"), opposed to 
right of coordination as well as to right of subordination, 
which alone are known to juridical individualism and "im- 

16. Cf. C. G. Haines, op. cit, 297-301. 

17. G. Gurvitch, Le temps present et I'idee du droit social, 8. The introduc- 
tion to this book summarizes the explanation of droit social contained in 
his L'idee du droit social (Paris: Sirey, 1931), 95ff., 154ff. 

18. G. Gurvitch, Le temps present et l'idee du droit social, 8. 

19. Ibid,, 7-8. 


The organic character of the social whole, which is a whole simply 
because there is a social life which must be ordered, is obscurred 
by his concern with the subpolitical associations that are inexorably 
assuming importance and power in modern society. The fact that 
many of these associations have no need for hierarchial structure 
in order to attain the partial aspect of social life at which they aim 
is probably what led him to conclude that hierarchy is contrary to 
the purpose of any non-state association. 

Elliott's attempt to combine Green's doctrine of the common 
good and other elements with an enlightened political pragmatism 
is another interesting example of the tendency we are discussing. 
In The Pragmatic Revolt in Politics he set forth his "co-organic" 
theory of the state. A co-organic group he defines as 

an organic arrangement of persons who act as a unit toward 
a common end or ends, more or less consciously accepted 
and actively shared by each member. The group has an 
' organic or functional unity without creating through it 
either a super-organism or a super-self.-*^ 

In an article in the Review of Politics in 1940 he tells us : 

I am still left concerned to find the moral basis for free 
constitutional agreement within nations as a pre-condition 
of going beyond nationalism in much the old terms : an 
Aristotelian balance that retains on the one hand the ul- 
timacy of moral personality and free individual choice (with 
the state as its guarantor) of all group loyalties. This I 
have called the shared purpose of the co-element of human 
associations. On the other hand, the balance must allow 
for that necessity which I called "organic," of the total 
environmental and institutional context.-^ 

This view in fact bears a considerable resemblance to the 
Aristotelian concept of the state, which is primarily regarded as 
directed toward an end common to its members, and as having a 
determinate nature on account of that end and the social nature of 
man. But for Elliott it is a state which will find its jusification in 
preserving individual rights. The duties of the citizen seem to 
consist in cooperation and loyalty. 

If political theory has advanced to a limited comprehension of 
the nature of the common good and the social obligations of the 

20. W. Y. Elliott, The Pragmatic Revolt in Politics, 377. 

21. W. Y. Elliott, "The Pragmatic Revolt in Politics," Review of Politics. 2 
(1940), 1. 


members of society, political practice has progressed considerably 
beyond the doctrinaire limitations of economic liberalism and utili- 
tarianism. The speeches of Lloyd George in the House of Com- 
mons reveal the change in sentiment that was occurring in 
England during the remarkable rise of the Labor Party. In 1912, 
during the debate on the Industrial Agreements Bill, he remarked: 

I do not suppose anyone in the House will accept the view 
. . . that it is the business of the Government to stand aside 
and let the parties fight it out. That has been abandoned 
long ago.^^ 

It had been adbandoned. The passage of the National Insurance 
Act of the year before was a kind of approbation of Lloyd George's 
statement that 

Our object, our goal ought to be enough to maintain effi- 
ciency for every man, woman and child. The individual 
demands it, the State needs it, humanity cries for it, religion 
insists upon it.^^ 
The extension of social legislation in all countries mitigated 
the oppressions of the now mature capitalist economy.^"* The 
period in which the term social justice became popular in the 
United States was the period of trust-busting and muckraking 
reformism. ^^ 

Still it must be said that political changes represented as much 
the result of organized class pressure as of legislative common 
sense, and the latter more than the realization of political prin- 
ciples of social justice. The liberal ethics was in the process of 
breaking down, but it did not break down all at once. A society 
never becomes aware of the corruption of its morals until that 
corruption has led to political catastrophe. Few enough voices were 
raised in support of Leo's condemnation not of private ownership 
and industrial production, but of the capitalistic spirit which seeks 
to remove economic institutions from the control of human and 
natural law. Outside the Catholic Church only Utopian solutions, 
chiefly of the institutional character which Babbitt decried, and 
superficial mechanical changes were the object of the simple faith 
of social reformers. Through more realistic agitation the class 

22. Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5 S., 39 (1912), 236; cited in 
C. W. Pipkin, Social Politics and Modern Democracies, I, 149-150. 

23. D. Lloyd George, The People's Insurance, (2 ed. 1911), 192; cited in C. W. 
Pipkin, op. cit., I, 240. 

24. Ibid., II, Ch. 12. 

25. Cf. H. U. Faulkner, The Quest for Social Justice, 1898-1914, Ch. 5. 


struggle was admitted into the code of social morality, as a means 
of raising the guerilla warfare of "free competition" to a higher 
level of organization on which the sides would be more evenly 
matched with more hope for a just outcome. But in this way 
social disintegration was seriously aggravated by the very forces 
which were most instrumental in bringing about the reforms gen- 
uinely demanded by social justice. The advice of the Church was 
chiefly unheeded. 

Furthermore many Catholic writers, surrendering to the in- 
fluence described in Chapter II, offered social solutions as mechani- 
cal and unreal as those of the Utopian socialists. In seeking to 
adapt guild organization to the economic and political conditions 
of modern society they ignored the most serious problems of con- 
temporary social life : economic efficiency and political unity. 
Artificial guild organizations would destroy the entire life of our 
productive methods. The system of vocation representation pro- 
posed by many has been the tool of fascist governments, and in 
parlimentary democracy could only be the source of political dis- 
ruption, by forcing on to the legislative level the economic divisions 
which at the worst in functioning democracy can be adjusted in the 
unofficial process of lobby and pressure politics.^'' 

The Catholic message of social justice is written in sharp relief 
against this background of individualist thought in all its forms — 
romantic, rationalistic, humanitarian, totalitarian. It is the key 
to the reintegration of social life that must be inspired by Christian 
faith and charity and supported by grace. But it is a key which 
even this pagan society can turn if it is shown how. The realization 
of the idea of social justice is the unity of social peace. 


The life of society, the cause of its unity, is the life of reason. 
The life of reason is an ordering of all tendencies toward an in- 
tellectual end. All the members of an individual man share in his 
life and are made one by submitting to his rational direction ; all 
the members of a state share in the social life only by submitting 
themselves to the rule of reason in society — that is, by directing 
their actions toward the common good. For while in the animal 
organism the parts are directed toward the good of the whole by 
a natural necessity, and in the human organism by the despotic 
command of the rational appetite, in the moral organism which is 

26. Cf. Dr. F. A. Hermens, "The Corporative Idea and the Crisis of Demo- 
cracy," Central-Blatt and Social Justice, 31 (1939), 372-375, for a thorough 
analysis of this point. 


society they can be unified only by voluntarily submitting to the 
guidance of law. I am using law in the broad sense which St. 
Thomas defined, to mean a reasonable ordination to the common 
good ; proceeding in part from the state, in part from nature, 
wholly from God. Healthy social life requires that men habitually 
guide themselves by the principles that direct them toward the 
common good. It requires that they habitually render to society 
not a few virtuous actions but the whole of virtuous life. The 
natural habit of doing this is the virtue of social justice. 

How is it to be revealed in practice? In a democracy every 
voter, far more every influential person, has to have social justice 
principally, as a ruler. In fact this is largely impracticable, because 
not every voter has the political prudence required of a ruler. But 
he can dispose himself by ridding himself of the private vices of 
greed, cowardice and hatred which hinder the operation of a gen- 
eral virtue. He can try to vote conscientiously without regard to 
rancour or private interest. And each member of the community 
can develop social justice participatively by obeying the laws, act- 
ing justly in private matters, and referring all his social actions to 
the moral well-being of the society. 

These are the things required of a social man ; this is the only 
regimen which will build and preserve social health against disease 
from within and assault from without. Nothing more need be said 
to urge the value of social justice. The object to which it is di- 
rected is the supreme good of men in the natural order. And it 
would be of no greater value today than it has always been, if it 
were not for the unhappy effects of its long disuse. But since Leo 
XIII uttered his warning, the condition of society has become 
even more critical, the need of remedy even more acute. Today the 
threatened collapse of the entire political culture of liberalism has 
awakened a concern with the spiritual sources of its weakness. It is 
a time of public penance ; the newspaper columnists have covered 
us with sackcloth and ashes. Much depends on the quality of our 
sorrow and the kind of resolution it engenders. 

A crisis does not always resolve into a turn for the better. The 
reign of anarchy is coming to an end, and as Plato foretold, it has 
ushered "in an era of tyranny. The present crisis is a War of Suc- 
cession. The virtues that a man needs to live virtuously under a 
tyranny are more heroic than moderns have. But it may be that 
social justice practiced now, under the guidance of prudence, will 
avert one tyranny and establish a community less pregnable to 




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5 ^^SJ^ 


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